An exclusive interview with Celta Vigo's Spanish U-21 international
Who is José Fontán?
To be part of the best team in your local region since you were 11 years old and to become part of the dynamic of the first-team in a competition as important as La Liga; that is the dream of many youngsters across the world. It is also the story of our latest interviewee: José Fontán.
An international with Spain’s Under-21s since last October, Fontán has earned his rightful place in the Celta Vigo senior set-up, making 27 appearances in the last two seasons, having signed his contract for the club last summer until 2025.
Despite considering himself a centre-back, José Fontán has had no problems adapting to a new role at left-back this season, taking over from Javi Galán on several occasions.
“In the youth academy I’ve hardly ever played as a full-back, maybe in the odd game out of necessity. I feel much more comfortable at centre-back but in the end, the more positions you can play, the more options you have to be part of the team and that’s the main goal, playing. That’s what we all want”, Fontán asserts.
“I would define myself as an intelligent, tactical centre-back who likes to play with the ball,” essential characteristics for the football that Celta coach Chacho Coudet wants to play.
It is also a style of play that is consistent through the cantera teams, as Fontán emphasises: “In the academy we have a style of dominating games and playing with our defense high, like Coudet does now, and that has helped me to adapt to his football and stop those transitions. The style we have now is similar to what I experienced during my years at the academy”.
“I think it’s good that it hurts because it makes you realise that there is a responsibility and you have to live with it.”
José Fontán on learning from mistakes
Fontán’s football has always been marked by his ability on the ball. At the ages of 12 and 13, he played mostly as a midfielder and impressed with his ability in possession before he transitioned into deeper roles:
“In the youth teams I always played more as a midfielder than as a defender. I started to move my position back but my way of playing has always been the same. Playing as a midfielder I have always been a good ball-player, not a destructive one and now as a central defender I think I’m still that kind of defender. My game has not had a very big change”.
This past season, Fontán has had fewer minutes afforded to him than expected and has had to go through difficult moments where knowing how to deal with the pressure and escape from the noise has been key. A mistake against Cádiz and Coudet’s half-time substitution put the then-21-year-old in a difficult situation for a young player. Fontán explains the importance of living through the bad moments too, something he himself defines as learning:
“The next few hours, the next day… ideally you would like to click and move on but you can’t. It’s hard because obviously it hurts but these are situations you have to live through to get better. If it doesn’t happen now it will happen later, and the sooner it happens the sooner you will know how to act the next time. I think it’s good that it hurts because it makes you realise that there is a responsibility and you have to live with it, but in the end football is a sport of mistakes and everyone makes them sooner or later. You have to recover”.
His season has been marked by his move from centre-back to left-back in place of Javi Galán, the outfield player with the most minutes in the team and one of the most used players in the championship, which has led to Fontán getting less playing time than expected, something he hopes to change next season: “My goal is to get more minutes than I’ve had so far,” he told Scouted Football.
Recognition in Europa
Eight years after his arrival in the first team, little remains of the youngster that first step foot into A Madroa, Celta’s academy, which is one of the more prolific in Europe.
Names such as Iago Aspas, Dénis Suárez, Brais Méndez and Hugo Mallo are regulars in the starting line-up every matchday at Balaídos. Players established in their team and in La Liga who, as if that wasn’t enough, have in common having been part of the Celta youth system. A successful academy that also produced other players that have enjoye fruitful careers, like Spanish strikers Joselu (Alavés) and Borja Iglesias (Real Betis), as well as Rodrigo Moreno at Leeds United.
In the latter stages of the past season, CIES Football Observatory published a study that only confirmed the great work that has been done for many years in in Galicia, northwest Spain. Celta is the third club in the five big European leagues with the highest percentage of minutes played by home-grown players.
Only two other Spanish clubs, the presitigious Basque entities of Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, were ahead of a Galician club in terms of home-grown minutes. Where does Celta’s academy heritage derive from? Fontán highlights the club’s financial investment and its strong commitment to high-level coaches at youth level:
“In my personal experience I can tell you that each and every one of the coaches I’ve had are very well prepared, from the time we were very young. From all the coaches I have had I have learnt a lot from each one of them and in the long run you can see that in the later stages when players arrive who are much more experienced and more capable of making the leap to the senior categories, from youth to senior.
“With players who are well trained in tactical and technical aspects it is much easier for the first team to bet on them”, says José Fontán, who has very good memories of his years at A Madroa.
“Iago Aspas and Hugo Mallo were the role models. You wanted to follow that perfect path, to do what they had done. I’ve been lucky enough to go down that road and get there.”
José Fontán on emmulating Celta’s home-grown heroes
“The best memories I have of my life are the years as a cadet and youth player. I was also lucky enough to have a generation in which there was and still is an incredibly good vibe, we are all friends and we had a coach who was with us for several years and that helped to form that group,” he explains.
Back then, in his first years as a child, Fontán was already acting as a ball boy in a Balaídos where his current team-mates were already acting as role models. “Iago and Hugo were the role models. In the youth system you wanted to follow a perfect path that would lead you to the first team, to do what they had done. I’ve been lucky enough to go down that road and get there, but you always have to take it very slowly, step by step. In football there are people who are in a hurry and they are very negative, really”.
Aspas, morriña, and learning from teachers
Talking about A Madroa and Celta de Vigo redirects all the spotlight to the figure who has guided Celta in recent years: Iago Aspas. The star of the Celeste side has once again proved, at almost 35 years of age, that age is just a number or that he is simply like good wine.
With 18 goals in the league so far this season, it looks like Iago will add another Zarra Trophy, the award given in Spain to the top domestic scorer of the championship. It will be the fourth of his career, thus equalling David Villa as the player with the most titles in history.
However, in England, the image of Aspas takes us back to Anfield and a 2013/14 season in which many do not have the best memories. You may also remember an infamously poor corner kick. For many though, Aspast is rightly regarded as the best Spanish striker of the last five years.
“Iago rarely talks about his time at Liverpool. I think that, in the end, his way of being took its toll on him. He is very much a person of his own and of his land, of his people. Here, he is the way he wants to be and in the end we and the city of Vigo enjoy him. I think he needs that and in England it was very difficult for him to adapt,” says Fontán.
It’s interesting that the young man speaks passionately about his captain. He underlines the keys to why there was such a big disparity in Aspas’ performance in England and Spain, something that we know as ‘homesickness’ but there is an special world in the Galician community: ‘Morriña’.
Back to his own business, Fontán has had to compete with centre-backs of international class, like Mexico’s Néstor Araujo, Colombia’s Jeison Murillo and Ghana’s Joseph Aidoo. Experienced ‘teachers’, as he calls them, of the highest level who help a young player like Fontán to grow in such a demanding and “veteran” position as centre-back.
“We are talking about centre-backs who know what it is like to play in a World Cup. It’s a privilege to have their help on a day-to-day basis. If I had to choose one virtue of the three of them, I’d say it’s their forcefulness,” says the Celta youth player, who takes every opportunity to continue learning:
“In my personal experience I can tell you that each and every one of the coaches I’ve had are very well prepared, from the time we were very young.”
José Fontán on Celta de Vigo’s youth development system
“I pay attention to details in training. For example, clearances. Maybe because you’re young you don’t pay attention to it, you want to move the ball away and that’s it.
“However, you look at them and their years of experience when it comes to clearing in one way or another, how to position the body so that the ball goes to a place that makes sense. All three of them are a good mirror for me to look at myself,” Fontán says, highlighting the good vibes with all of them.
“I am aware that this is a cliché that is said in interviews, but the competition in the team is very healthy. My relationship with Murillo is also very good off the pitch”.
The combination of academy players with skyblue blood and signings with international experience are the strength of a Celta de Vigo side that, for the tenth consecutive season has secured its place in La Liga, establishing itself as one of the great clubs of Spanish football and which aspires to close the career of its great star, Iago Aspas, hopefully with a title or European qualification in a year, 2023, more special than ever with the celebration of its centenary.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to José for his time and Celta Vigo for their access. If you wish to report any of these quotes, please credit Scouted Football and include a link to the original page.