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West Ham Season Preview #10: Will the real José Fonte please stand up?

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A mid-season transfer of the Portuguese defender solidified the Hammers defense. But does he come at too high a price for his performance? 

Portugal v Chile: Semi-Final - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Last Season

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Fonte came in to the season with Southampton as one of the top defenders in the Premier League. Solid all-around, he had won a European Championship with Portugal and, despite being 32, there was talk of Manchester United coming in to swoop him away from the Saints. Paired with Virgil Van Dyke, Southampton boasted one of the top pairings in England.

His performance wavered a bit though in his 17 appearances with Southampton. And on 20 January, 2017, Fonte moved to West Ham United for a reported £8 million plus add-ons. It was a two-and-a-half year deal.

In his debut for the Claret and Blue, he conceded a penalty for bringing down Raheem Sterling in the box. The Hammers went on to lose 0-4 at home to Manchester City.

In 16 appearances for West Ham, Fonte contributed 141 total defensive actions, 79% pass accuracy, and won 69% of aerial duels. His addition to the club helped sure up the back line enough to keep West Ham safe from relegation, which in itself makes him worth the transfer. Yet many West Ham fans can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in his overall performance.

In a word, Fonte’s season was disappointing. After leading Southampton in Performance Score in 2013-14 (910) and 2014-15 (1047), he dropped to second in 2015-16 (804). That downward trend seemed to have continued but at a more rapid pace with a combined score of 466 between West Ham and Southampton.

Is this a sign of a player on his way out or simply the result of a long few years of domestic and international success? The 2017-18 season will be a big indicator.

Current Team Placement

West Ham United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Winston Reid is an unquestioned starter at Center Back for the Hammers. His partner in the back is a little more in question. José Fonte started every game from February 1 on for West Ham, but Angelo Ogbonna was injured.

For my money, Ogbonna is the better option at this point in his and Fonte’s careers. Some of it is youth, but much of it is the downward trend in Fonte’s game that we saw last season.

With that said, Fonte as a third CB option is an excellent one for West Ham to have. Over the past few years, there have not been many better defenders in the EPL and with Ogbonna’s injuries as of late, José is a fantastic insurance plan for the Irons.

Goals for this Season

Southampton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Be it fatigue or age, José Fonte needs to prove that he is still the player that he has been in the past.

At 33, he should still have much to give his team. He’s never been a major goal scoring threat, but 15 goals in 260 apps for Southampton is certainly not horrific. He can contribute to West Ham set pieces offensively and be a reliable stopper defensively.

The goal for this season is to simply be a similar version to the player he was with Southampton. Age will definitely play its role in that. But in his first full year at West Ham, the Portuguese defender should be able to make last winter’s transfer seem well worth it.

A proper perspective on what he is as a player will go a long way to doing that. The additions up front should help him shine as a defender when he gets the opportunities.

The question is: Is José Fonte the player the board thought they were getting, or is Father Time starting to catch up quickly?