Southampton have been urged to make replacing captain Jose Fonte a priority during the January transfer window, after the Portugual international handed in a transfer request. The 33-year-old remains keen on leaving St Mary's after failing to complete a move to Manchester United over the summer.
Saints director of football Les Reed confirmed on Thursday (5 January) that the club skipper had indicated he wants to leave the south coast, suggesting that the offer of a new contract had been rejected. Fonte previously claimed he had not been offered an extension to a contract that has 18 months to run.
Fonte admitted earlier this season that a move to United had broken down, but insisted he was fully focused on Southampton, where he is a mainstay of Claude Puel's back four. Le Tissier says his former side must move on from Fonte's expected departure and look to sign a replacement for the European Championship winner.
"A centre-forward with Austin out and Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez hardly in scintillating form," he told Sky Sports, when asked about Southampton's January transfer window targets. "If Fonte goes, which is looking likely, then they'll have to replace him." Saints' record Premier League scorer added on Twitter: "Not surprising, [Fonte has] hardly been behaving like a skipper from what I hear."
Puel is yet to make any changes to his squad during the January window, though Fonte is likely to become the first departure if the club have any ambition of recouping a fee for him. Reed revealed ahead of the FA Cup third-round trip to Norwich City that Fonte wanted out, despite attempts to address his future.
"He's had several opportunities to improve the contract situation. He's reserved his right not to do that," Reed told BBC Radio Solent. "He's made it very clear he would like to explore the opportunities for a transfer. That's where we are at the moment; Jose wants to leave the club. He's formally asked for a transfer."
A move to Old Trafford would see Fonte link up with countryman Jose Mourinho at United, though reports are suggesting the club could overlook the veteran centre-back. The Manchester Evening News understands Mourinho is content with his defensive options, which could see Fonte opt for a move to relegation-threatened Crystal Palace.
United will be without Eric Bailly for their FA Cup clash with Reading, in what could be the first of eight games the player misses due to his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations with defending champions Ivory Coast. Phil Jones,Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind are set to deputise over the period, which includes the two-legged EFL Cup semi-final against Hull City and the Premier League visit of Liverpool.