Jose Fonte spoke with pride over how his journey to the Euro 2016 semi-final is dramatically different to the one enjoyed by Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Portugal team-mates prepare to face Wales on Wednesday.
While Ronaldo’s rise to prominence saw him become the world’s most expensive player and Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer among other notable highlights, Fonte’s career has included turning out for Southampton in each of the top three divisions in English football.
But the Saints’ return to the Premier League in 2012 handed Fonte a platform to make a name for himself and gain international recognition, with the 32-year-old – who only made his Portugal debut in November 2014 – in line to start against Wales in Lyon.
Reflecting on his backstory and that of Ronaldo – the undoubted star attraction for club and country – the centre-back said: “Well, they’re two different backgrounds.
“Cristiano rose like a rocket at 18 to leave for Manchester United, an amazing club. Everyone knows his story.
“I had to work very, very hard. I had several loan spells, I tried to improve and become a better player in several clubs and in different leagues.
“When I reached the Premier League it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I grew as a player and learned a lot. As soon as I started playing for Southampton, it really took off.
“I started being successful. We went up through the leagues to the Premier League and, once we were there, the gaffer made me the chance to represent my country, making my biggest dream come true.
“My background is one of hard work and suffering, but I’m very proud of it.”
While Portugal have made hard work of reaching the last four – drawing all three group games before beating Croatia and Poland in extra time and on penalties respectively – Fonte is savouring every moment in France.
He said: “It means everything to me to be here. It means the world. I’ve always had the ambition and the desire and belief I could get there.
“As soon as I could get to the Premier League, I thought I’d be closer to my dream, my target.
“We’ve been able to progress at Southampton to be a top six or seven club in the Premier League, which gave me the opportunity to be selected by the manager.
“It’s something I’m proud of and something I’ll always cherish, this time in Euro 2016.”
With Pepe an injury doubt, veteran Ricardo Carvalho may get the nod to partner Fonte at the back at the Stade de Lyon.
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