Matt Crocker can seal Southampton’s push for European football with a January swoop for Vitoria Guimaraes defender Jorge Fernandes.
According to the Daily Mail, a host of Premier League sides are beginning to show an interest in Fernandes ahead of the January window after becoming aware of Os Vimaranenses’ need to raise funds this winter.
Fernandes has played an instrumental role in Vitoria Guimaraes’ early-season form, having started all eight of his Liga Nos appearances, as manager Joao Henriques’ side sit fifth and in the Europa League positions with the division’s joint-best defensive record heading into Christmas.
Fernandes is under contract at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques through to the summer of 2024 in a deal which features a €50m (£45.5m) buyout clause, though Southampton could complete a deal for far less with Vitoria Guimaraes seemingly open to offers of around £16m in January.
Vitoria Guimaraes are willing to part with the highly-rated 23-year-old for far less than his release clause as Portuguese sides continue to feel the financial impact of the pandemic, which has made sales of their brighter prospects a necessary measure.
Premier League clubs are seemingly reluctant to spend much in the upcoming winter market, but Fulham, Southampton and Newcastle United are said to see Fernandes as a long-term option that would make a January splurge worthwhile.
Southampton will soon be facing a key decision over the future of Jack Stephens with his £48,000-per-week contract set to expire in 2022, but Saints Director of Football Crocker can better solidify the south coast side’s long-term future and immediate push for European football by getting Fernandes.
Stephens has rarely featured under Ralph Hasenhuttl this season whilst Jannik Vestergaard often shines at St. Mary’s, with the 26-year-old only starting three of his four Premier League appearances and only featuring twice since October – including a 90-minute run-out at left-back.
Fernandes, meanwhile, has been thriving for Vitoria Guimaraes having helped to claim six clean sheets in the Liga Nos to date with a staggering average haul of 1.6 successful tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 4.0 clearances a game while winning 3.9 duels, per SofaScore.
He’s safe on the ball, too, with 67.8 touches leading to 49.8 accurate passes with an 87% completion rate, which rises to 94% for attempts carried out in Os Vimaranenses’ territory.
Centre-back signings may not be an immediate concern for Hasenhuttl with surplus options already to hand, but a promising and young centre-half hitting the market should be enough for the Saints and their Director of Football Crocker to consider a move.