Southampton boss Claude Puel expects Jose Fonte to stay at the club for the coming season despite speculation linking him with Manchester United.
The 32-year-old, who lifted the Euro 2016 trophy with Portugal last month, has emerged as a reported target for Jose Mourinho and former Saints manager Ronald Koeman, now at Everton.
Fonte stated in an interview with O Jogo that it would be difficult to turn down the advances of a “world-class club” and claimed that several sides were interested in his signature.
But Puel, who took charge in June, says the centre-back – who has recently returned to training with Cedric Soares after an extended post-Euros break – remains an integral part of his plans.
“Yes. He is a very important player for the squad and the team,” he told Sky Sports when asked if Fonte would stay.
“It’s fantastic to have two players that are champions of Europe, with Soares. Only we can say that. Jose came back with the squad and it’s important to keep him with a good head and attitude.”
Fonte had earlier admitted that an offer from a major club – particularly one in the Champions League, a competition for which United failed to qualify last season – would be difficult to turn down.
“Southampton are a good club in England, where I’ve been treated very well,” he said. “However, in football you never know what can happen and it’s obvious that if a world-class club who play in the Champions League show up, it’s tempting for me. But I state it again, I’m happy where I am.
“What I can say is that I strongly believe in my abilities and I think I can play in any team in the world.
“There are several interested sides, but for anything to materialise is another matter. Then there are other details: you need to understand if the club wants to sell me, if they are able to let me go.
“Without wanting to hurt people at my club who helped me so much, if a Real Madrid or a Barcelona were interested, it would be hard to contain myself.”
Fonte was a half-time replacement for Maya Yoshida in Southampton’s 1-0 friendly win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.