An influential figure in the club's resurrection, former Southampton captain José Fonte reflects on Saints' remarkable rise from League One to the Europa League...
Best teammate in helping you settle?
You are talking a long time ago now, 2010! We had such a great group and that was one of our strengths. I arrived and created a good bond with Morgan Schneiderlin, although he was a young boy at the time. Soon after I arrived, Guly came and I formed a good bond with him. There was Rickie Lambert, Kelvin Davis, Dan Harding… we were a tight group, people welcomed me very fast and made it easy to adapt. Those would be the main guys.
We were lucky to have so many great memories and great games, but one that stuck in my mind is when I scored in the last minute at Brighton. It was such a special moment – the whole environment of the game, a full stadium and they were celebrating and trying to mock us a bit by being the champions. To get the win in the last minute, in the manner that we did, I think it was very special. I also can’t forget the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final – to go to Wembley and have so many Southampton fans in the stadium and celebrate like that, it was a special first season. The game against Coventry when I scored and we needed to win to go up, I also remember clearly. In the Premier League, there were so many games I could mention, with so many wins against big teams.
Best team performance?
It’s hard to forget the 8-0 against Sunderland. That was probably the best – we were like a machine that day. I could also say the 1-0 win at Anfield, the 4-0 against Arsenal at home, the 3-1 win at Chelsea and the ones where we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. There’s been a few!
Best personal performance?
The season of 2014/15 I felt was one of the best of my career. To single out one performance? Maybe the one against Manchester United when I got the man of the match award, when we beat them 1-0 with Dušan’s goal. I had a good game against Rooney, the whole team played well and I was happy.
I have to say the Brighton goal – the looping header. I scored a few other good goals, but I don’t really look at the Premier League goals because that one was even more special. Although it was in League One, it was the significance of it. I remember going and celebrating with the fans and that is what sticks in your head and how happy they were. Even the chairman was excited!
I have to say, the whole journey from where the club was – from League One and about to go bust, being saved by Markus Liebherr, all the way to the Europa League. We were finishing constantly in the top seven or eight of the Premier League, and the whole journey was incredible. Seeing my team playing in the San Siro against Inter Milan after where we came from was special, and that’s why I’m sad I didn’t play in that game.
Best player played with?
We had so many great players, but it’s impossible to forget Rickie Lambert for all the important goals he scored. He was just incredible. We have to speak about the players that played longer with me, like Rickie, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana. We also had Mané, Pellè, Tadić, van Dijk… obviously very good players, but I have to stick with my boys from the League One days.
We usually stayed in single rooms, but I did have a few times rooming with Schneiderlin. The pre-season he left I was a little upset. I was left alone in my room and thought, ‘we just lost a good one’.
We cannot run away from Danny Butterfield and Kelvin Davis – they were just great characters in the dressing room and made people laugh. Those two were the funniest. Paul Wotton was a good one, too.
I have to thank all of them – they were all important. Alan Pardew was the one who brought me to the club with the old chairman, Nicola Cortese, who I have to thank for what he did for me and the club. Then we had Nigel Adkins for three years, then Mauricio Pochettino and a different way of thinking about football, which was refreshing. That was a great next step and then when he left we hired Ronald Koeman, who was the manager who took the most out of me. He gave me the most confidence I ever played with. Koeman and I had a great relationship and we had good success in those two seasons, so I have to say Koeman just nicks it.
I was fortunate that year after year we had such great players. I learned that if you want to keep evolving and keep getting better, it’s important to have great players around you. I learned from them, we pushed each other and we started to get that mentality of pushing for the maximum and striving for greatness. There are always people who doubt your value, but that just motivated me more. They just add petrol to the fire and pushed me to work harder. If I wanted to be important in the team, I had to keep getting better.
Best opposition team?
Manchester City. It was always a tough game against them because of their style and players, like Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero. Even the Liverpool side that pushed them all the way with Luis Suárez, that was a great team and they had a great season as well. Chelsea had a strong team too – I was just fortunate to play against these teams and individuals.
Best opposition player?
For me, I would have to say Agüero. He was sharp, a tough cookie, his centre of gravity is so small and for tall players it’s hard, as he can change direction so quickly and he is intelligent in his movement. I also have to mention van Persie, Suárez, Rooney, Drogba and Ibrahimović – even if he was 35, he was still at the top of his game.
Best thing about Southampton?
Southampton gave me my best memories and best years in football. The relationship with the fans was fantastic – they always had my back. I still care for the club, look out for them and cheer for them.