José Fonte believes this summer will be one of the most important that Saints have ever embarked on.

After a five-year period of continued success and growth, the club might be about to face the greatest challenge yet to that progress.

Many of Saints’ best players are attracting interest from other teams, while the future of the manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is also far from certain.

Fonte has become the latest senior player, following Rickie Lambert and Artur Boruc, to state his hope that the club’s boss will agree a new long-term contract at St Mary’s, with his current deal running out at the end of next season.

The centre-half says keeping Pochettino is “massive”, indicating that, if he commits to staying this summer, then so will Saints’ key players.

“This possibly is one of the most important summers of this club,” he said.

“If you want to go and move forward and be better, of course they [the board] know what they have to do.

“But, if you want this club to go higher and better, I think, in my mind, there’s no doubt that we need to keep Mauricio for a long time.”

The 30-year-old added: “By keeping Mauricio, you probably keep the most important players.”

Fonte said there remains a sense within the squad that they would like to stay together and continue to grow under Pochettino’s guidance.

“Yes, most definitely,” he said. “I speak for myself – most definitely. “And I know most of the players will think like me.

“We all love to play under him and we know where this club is going if he stays.”

While it is increasingly apparent that the future of Pochettino is closely tied to that of Saints’ top stars, his presence is, of course, no guarantee that everyone would remain.

Fonte has allayed fears, however, of a domino effect should one of the club’s best players leave.

He said: “If you sell one great player and you get good money and you invest it well, I don’t see why the other players have to leave.

“It just depends what you want to do with the money.”

Like Pochettino, Fonte is due to be out of contract in 2015, and the defender is keen to discuss a new deal before the start of next season.

“Definitely. If you let it go more than the summer I think it puts yourself in a bad situation,” he said.

“I’m quite comfortable, I’m calm about my future, because I’ve played a lot of games this season, I’ve had a reasonably strong season.

“I’m waiting for Southampton to make a move, if they want me to stay.

“Then, obviously, we will discuss the terms, so I’m just waiting and trying to be the best I can until the end of the season, so I put myself in a strong situation.”

Fonte added: “I love being here and playing for this club. I’ve enjoyed every single minute of my time here, so it’s a club where honestly I would like to stay and to keep playing for many more years.”