Lionel Messi made the seemingly unthinkable leap to French football earlier this week and if it were up to Jose Fonte, Cristiano Ronaldo would join his fellow Ballon d’Or hogger in Ligue 1.
The Lille captain guided Les Dogues to a historic title win last season, dethroning PSG in the process, and prompting club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi to go on a galactico-style spending spree, which has included the signings of Messi, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum.
That assembly of superstars has made PSG all but a shoo-in to reclaim the title, a challenge Lille skipper Fonte is relishing as the club look to defend their crown under new management, with Christophe Galtier leaving and Jocelyn Gourvennec stepping into the hotseat.
Lille’s hopes of clinching successive titles have also been dampened by key departures, with Mike Maignan joining AC Milan and Boubakary Soumare moving to the Premier League with Leicester, but Fonte has been playing scout this summer, trying to lure another stellar name to Ligue 1.
The 37-year-old quips he is in contact with Portugal teammate Ronaldo every day, pleading for him to reignite his old El Clasico rivalry with Messi in France, but the legendary forward jokingly responds in dismissive tones.
“It will be even more difficult for us [now that Messi is in France], but we are up to the challenge,” Fonte told TalkSport.
“Every day I write to Cristiano Ronaldo to come to Lille. He just answers: ‘ha ha ha’.
“We’ll try to use our weapons and I’ll try to bring Cristiano back in some way. I’ll make a plan! All he has to do is [win] the French title.”
Fonte’s career is a storied and exceptional one; from plying his trade in League One 10 years ago to winning Ligue 1 a decade later. It is a testament to his mental fortitude and professionalism that he continues to play at the top echelon of the sport at 37 years of age.
His centre-back partnership with Sven Botman last term was the cornerstone of Lille’s title success, and while the Euro 2016 winner may be entering the twilight years of a glittering career, for now he is preparing Lille for another shot at silverware, while also revelling in the chance to lock horns with Messi.
Fonte added: “What a challenge to have, what a thing to [possibly] say to your children: ‘We played against Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, and we managed to win and not concede goals.
“It will be interesting to see how competitive the league is this season.”
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