After walking out of a training session Fernando Llorente’s Athletic Bilbao lifespan has seemingly spiralled further out of control, putting many of Europe’s elite on red alert in pursuit of the much admired forward.
Only a season ago the tall Spanish talisman, nicknamed El Rey León (the Lion King,) was one of the darlings of European football. His goal scoring feats, in an exciting free flowing Bilbao side, won many approving glances across the continent.
He contributed 29 goals in all competitions and gave Manchester United a mauling in the Europa League.
Many of the top brains in football tipped him to be among the contenders for the ‘Golden Boot’ at last summers European Championships, but although a member of the Spanish winning squad the tournament signalled the beginning of his surprising demise.
Llorente in fact never experienced one minute of playing time, despite being in the form of his life, and having been utilised effectively in the run up to the competition.
The weight of the winner’s medal dangling from his neck must have been no comparison to the mass of insult that he no doubt inwardly felt.
This seasons La Liga campaign has offered little respite for the powerful forward. Manager Marcelo Biesla, astutely known as ‘the madman,’ has only used his star striker thinly after his refusal to sign a new contract.
During a training session yesterday he became involved in a heated spat with Biesla, after the Argentinean had halted the session to criticise what he had just witnessed. In front of a Basque TV station, Llorente abandoned the training ground and refused to speak to reporters.
With under a year remaining on his contract the Basque club may be enthusiastic to cash in during the January transfer window; there will certainly be no shortage of suitors.
He was heavily linked with Barcelona during the summer and reportedly came close to joining Juventus, only for the ‘Old Lady’ unable to meet the players 36m Euro releasevclause. So what about a move to the Premier League?
Chelsea would probably be his most likely destination. Both Manchester clubs have no shortage of high profile strikers whilst the Londoners look comparatively light in that department. Chelsea would also be one of the few teams that could afford him.
Liverpool would no doubt be interested to provide a proven goal scorer alongside the hot and cold Suarez, but if they couldn’t raise the funds for Clint Dempsey it’s hard to see how they could for him.
That leaves only Arsenal. With the loss of Van Persie, and his replacements not yet fully gelling, Wenger would surely love to bring someone of Llorente’s calibre to the Emirates, but the cautious Frenchman is unlikely to reach that deeply into his pockets either.
image: © Alfonso Jimenez