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Fonte leaves West Ham after one year (for Dalian Yifang)

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Surely it was supposed to go a bit better than this: West Ham has moved center back Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League.

Fonte, 34, is the latest member of Dalian Yifang, the Irons announced Friday. Reports say it’s a move for about $7 million.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

It ends an unexceptional 12 months for the center back, who made just 24 appearances for West Ham after engineering a move away from Southampton.

Fonte was publicly criticized by West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan earlier this season as Sullivan said his children “begged him” not to sign Fonte and Robert Snodgrass last January. Ouch.

Injured for much of this season, Fonte was one of the Saints’ heroes as the club moved from the disappointment of League One to the Europa League.

Those heroics inspired this longform piece from Joe Prince-Wright.

Jose Fonte hits out at Southampton

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Jose Fonte isn’t happy at being cast as the villain following his $10 million move from Southampton to West Ham United in January.

[ MORE: Wenger update on Sanchez ]

Fonte, 33, left Saints after seven years at St Mary’s with Southampton stating publicly that their club captain wanted to move on.

The Portuguese international center back was linked with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool in the summer after impressing in Portugal’s EURO 2016 win but instead he stayed with Saints and ended up moving on in January to the Hammers with moves to Old Trafford and Anfield always seeming a little far-fetched.

Speaking to Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness ahead of West Ham’s London derby against Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Fonte was asked if he was harshly treated on his departure from Saints.

“No doubt. You need to know all the facts,” Fonte said. “It’s tough to see in the press you’ve put in a transfer request, which I didn’t. I never wrote a letter to the manager or the club saying I want to leave because even when that came out in the beginning of January I didn’t have a club to go to, so why would I put in a transfer request? It was tough to see that and to hear people saying bad stuff about you when it’s a lie. But this is football – you learn how to deal with things like this. At least I have the opportunity to put it right.”

Fonte said it was a “disappointing ending” to his time at Southampton and was also angry with many media reports stating that he refused to play and train for the club until he had a move lined up.

He also stated that Saints “weren’t willing” to compromise over a move in the summer after he made it clear he wanted to explore other offers on the table for him.

“When I see all over the news that I submitted a transfer request to leave the club – that’s disappointing. That never happened. There was an interview from the club; from a press conference that I demanded to leave, which then the press took it as a transfer request and I wonder where is it?

“As I said before, in the summer there were possibilities of leaving – that’s normal, everyone fights for their own interests to get the best possible outcome for yourself. To say that I wrote an official transfer request to the club, that’s a lie. And also that I refused to train and I wasn’t being a good captain? That’s a complete lie. I’ve always given my best to that club. That’s the main thing the fans should know. My conscious is very clear.”

The Portuguese center back has played alongside Dejan Lovren and Virgil Van Dijk in recent seasons in the Premier League and he’s so often been overlooked as the guy who gives you 7 out of 10 each and every game. There’s no doubting he was instrumental in guiding Saints from the third-tier to the Premier League’s top six and after arriving in the PL at the age of 29 he was a late bloomer.

Still, you get the sense that with him changing his agent last summer to Jorge Mendes he was pushing hard for a move away from St Mary’s. Southampton have stated on numerous occasions they had offered Fonte a new deal, with an extra year and an increase in wages, but he instead decided to leave. Saints begrudgingly accepted his move to West Ham in January in a good will gesture for his service to the club.

However, ahead of the EFL Cup final Van Dijk suffered a long-term injury and that left Saints without their two first-choice center backs at the start of the season. Had Fonte played in the final against Manchester United — an agonizing 3-2 defeat in a game they dominated — instead of the talented yet young academy product Jack Stephens, would he have lifted their first piece of silverware since 1976? Who knows.

Still, Fonte leaving Saints has hurt his legacy with some of the clubs fans and despite his insistence that he is the victim, we all know how these things work.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.

Strange Fonte situation nears end as West Ham close in

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Jose Fonte was linked with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool throughout the summer transfer window and for most of the January window.

Now a move to West Ham or West Bromwich Albion seems more likely.

[ MORE: Vertonghen injury update ]

Multiple outlets are reporting that Fonte, 33, has agreed terms with the two Premier League clubs, while West Ham are believed to be in the driving seat for Southampton’s skipper who they will pay $11 million for.

Fonte, who has been with Saints since 2010, handed in a transfer request earlier this month and is unavailable for selection until he is either sold by Southampton or the transfer window closes without him leaving.

The latter does not look likely, even if West Ham manager Slaven Bilic refused to comment specifically on Fonte in his press conference on Thursday. If the move to the Hammers does go through then it would end a strange, and sad, final chapter in Fonte’s career at St Mary’s.

He joined Saints in the third-tier in January 2010 and the center back is the only player remaining from their League One days. In seven years he has risen with Southampton and has become one of the most reliable center backs in the PL, plus got his chance with the Portuguese national team and started every game in the knockout stage as Portugal won EURO 2016 this summer.

After that triumph Fonte’s head seemed to have been turned and with his new agent Jorge Mendes (the same “super agent” who looks after Fonte’s compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho) he seemed to be eyeing a move away.

[ LONGFORM: Jose Fonte, baby ]

I was at a preseason game for Saints against Espanyol in August where Fonte turned up late (he had arrived late for preseason after his summer exploits with Portugal) and all of Southampton’s fans stood on their feet to applaud him for his success with Portugal at EURO 2016 and chanted for him to stay at St Mary’s. He rather sheepishly gave a wave but it all looked rather staged. It just didn’t feel right and there was no real surprise that the rumors about him leaving didn’t end until the end of the summer transfer window.

No clubs seemed too interested in taking him from Saints and anyway he had 18 months to run on his current, plus Southampton offered him a one-year extension and a pay raise without him even asking.

Fonte, for some reason, declined that offer and ever since then then there have been reports about him being a negative influence in the locker room and despite his play on the field not dropping dramatically he has put out cryptic message on Instagram, plus he didn’t play a single second of Southampton’s landmark UEFA Europa League group stage campaign for unknown reasons.

This situation is really nothing to do with current manager Claude Puel. He is caught in the middle and Executive director of football Les Reed finally came out and spoke about Fonte’s future two weeks ago as he revealed the Portuguese defender wanted out.

The way this has ended is messy for everyone involved but what more can Saints do?

They have a player who is adored by the fans after rising with them from the lower leagues to a sixth-place finish and European action. He is the captain of the club but is refusing to sign a new deal and has told them he wants to leave. Out of respect for Fonte, Saints will let any reasonable offer take him away from St Mary’s. Yet, it didn’t have to end like this.

If Fonte does go to West Ham, he may get an increase in his wages for the final few years of his career but then what? He would’ve had a job for life at Southampton had he played out the remaining 18 months of his current deal or then extended it for another season to take him towards the age of 36.

This whole situation seems very strange and for everyone involved some sort of explanation would help with wading through the mess if Fonte does leave Southampton, as expected, in the coming days. It is unlikely Fonte had West Ham or West Brom near the top of his ideal destinations when he made it clear he wanted to leave Saints. Now, those are the options awaiting him. Maybe he saw so many of his former teammates leave Saints and go on to better things (look at Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sadio Mane et al.) and fancied some of that following his success with Portugal in the summer.

No disrespect to Fonte but a veteran center back from Saints is hardly as enticing as the likes of Lallana and Mane were in summers gone by.

Amid the current situations regarding Dimitri Payet and Diego Costa in the Premier League, this one involving Fonte and Southampton has somewhat flown under the radar. It shouldn’t have. Serious questions need to be asked about what the heck has been going on.

Saints won’t pick Fonte for EFL Cup semi; Boufal injured

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It hasn’t been a great few weeks for Southampton.

[ MORE: Ozil on Arsenal future ]

They’ve lost three-straight games in the Premier League, plus captain Jose Fonte has handed in a transfer request and now record-signing Sofiane Boufal was injured with Morocco and on Monday he returned from the African Cup of Nations before the tournament even started.

Add up all of that and manager Claude Puel has a few headaches ahead of the big EFL Cup semifinal first leg at home against Liverpool on Wednesday.

Speaking to the media ahead of Saints’ first domestic cup semifinal since 2003, Puel confirmed that Fonte will not feature against Liverpool and that Virgil Van Dijk will continue as Saints’ captain.

“It is important for me to keep stability in the defense with players, we don’t know the future for Jose, it is a difficult situation,” Puel said. “You know the situation with Jose. I respect Jose and this is not easy for him, the squad or the staff. He is a good professional, but we have to respect this situation.”

On Boufal, the French manager said his star winger has suffered inflammation on the same knee he had surgery on last year and will be out for a few weeks as he recovers in Southampton.

With Saints on 24 points after 20 games in the PL, knocked out of the Europa League at the group stage and drawing with second-tier Norwich City in the FA Cup third round on Saturday, Puel badly needs his players to stand up and put in a big performances on Wednesday against Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool.

Southampton have only reached one major cup final in the past 40 years and Puel would become a hero in the south coast city if he could guide Saints past Liverpool over two legs and to the final against either Manchester United or Hull City.

Putting the bad news about Fonte and Boufal to the one side, Saints’ fans will take being level heading into the second leg at Anfield in two weeks time.