Written by Elliot Pollard @ellpol1.
The signing of 33 year old Jose Fonte in January 2017 came as a surprise to most West Ham fans as it appeared to be a position where the club had significant depth; especially as fan favourite James Tomkins was deemed surplus to requirements just 6 months previously and sold to rivals Crystal Palace. However when the news of the injury to Ogbonna came to light it was seen as a good replacement, bearing in mind the defensive troubles the team had experienced so far in the season.
Having rejected a new contract at Southampton, the experienced international centre back signed for a fee of £8 million on a two and a half year contract with a 1 year option. I have to admit at the time I thought it was a decent signing, a player who always impressed me every time I watched him. Fonte’s consistent defensive performances and his excelling leadership qualities made him one of the most desired centre backs in the Premier League.
Because of this I am very surprised how much he has struggled in our team. His debut against Man City was an absolute disaster as the whole team was ripped apart and shipped 4 goals, with Fonte also conceding a penalty. Although Fonte has gradually improved game by game I, am still waiting for a totally convincing performance from the European Championship winner.
What is interesting is the fact that Bilic did feel the need to strengthen in the centre back position following Ogbonna’s spell on the side line, even though we had the experienced James Collins and promising Reece Oxford in the ranks. Young Reece was sent on loan to Reading following the arrival of Jose, to see out the remainder of the season under the influence of Jaap Stam.
It was obvious that prior to the arrival of Fonte, Bilic did not rate Collins. This was evident in the home game against Leicester when Reid picked up an injury after 18 minutes and replaced him with Snodgrass, pushing Kouyate into the CB position rather than introducing Collins as a like for like replacement. Since this game though Ginge has had a decent run in the team, starting the last 6 games, keeping 3 clean sheets and even chipping in with a goal!
According to Squawka, Collins has outperformed Fonte this season and also averaged more blocks and clearances per game. Having said that Jose does average more interceptions, which suggests he may read the game better than James, who adopts more of a body on the line approach to defending.
So far Collins has been everything I expected from Fonte, aggressive, organised and has lead by example. James’s performance’s, particularly against Swansea, have been excellent and it comes as no surprise that the team has started to pick up more points since his introduction to the starting 11. Not only has the Welshman been excelling on the pitch, his post-match gestures in the last 2 home games have been very admirable, climbing into the stand to give away his shirts to young fans as chants of “there’s only 1 ginger Pele” ring around the stadium!
Many hammers fans are calling for Bilic to give more of a chance to the academy players, and next year both Reece Burke and Reece Oxford will be returning from there loan spells. That means we will have Reid, Ogbonna, Fonte, Collins, Oxford and Burke battling for 2 or 3 starting positions. Where does Fonte rank in this list? It makes me think that both Reece’s will have to be sent out on loan again in order to get some decent playing time.
Although giving the youth players a chance seems to have worked for a lot of clubs, including Fonte’s old side Southampton. It doesn’t appear that the loss of there Captain has left much of a hole in the Southampton team and it has presented an opportunity for 23 year old Jack Stephens, who has performed well since his run in the team.
Unfortunately I don’t think Bilic has had the luxury opportunity to introduce any of the younger players this season due to our unstable form and ultimately he decides when they are ready; however with a strong end to the season there is no reason why he can’t blend a few in.
Having praised Collins highly I still think we are yet to see the best of Fonte and I believe he is getting better each game; however do you think we would have signed another centre back if Fonte wasn’t available? I’m not sure we would have.