The Athletic Bilbao striker has confirmed that he will be leaving the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Fernando Llorente’s future at the club was subject to a lot of media speculation when the 27-year-old forward refused to sign a new contract at the beginning of the season. Bilbao however, refused to negotiate with any interested clubs.
The Spanish international has been relegated to the bench and has made just one league start so far this season. Clearly frustrated with the lack of opportunities, Llorente has been quoted saying
“I am going to leave on June 30. I want to develop as a player and try something new… The media have not helped with the negotiations and it is one of the things that has generated the bad atmosphere around me out on the pitch. This has encouraged me not to renew my contract; this and many other things… I took the decision when I went out for the first Europa League game at San Mames (in August)… Most of what has come out in the press is lies and this has turned people against me. This has meant when I run out on to the pitch people whistle at me. There is a sector of the crowd who do not want me but I feel loved by the majority.”
With the striker certain to leave at the end of the season, Athletic Bilbao may choose to cash in on the forward during the winter transfer window. Juventus and Arsenal are reportedly both pursuing his signature with Juventus in pole position to sign Llorente. Liverpool are also said to be monitoring the situation with keen interest.
Another option being explored by suitors is a pre-contract. According to rules, a player aged over 23 is free to negotiate a new contract with another club and sign a pre-contract agreement if there is less than six months or less remaining on his existing contract. Llorente can thus choose to sign a pre-contract with any of the clubs and then leave for a free in the summer transfer window.
This deal looks like a distinct possibility and with the player himself admitting that he will move on it is more a question of which club he will join.
Juventus have been in the market for a striker and Llorente will be perfect for Antonio Conte’s side. The Italian outfit have been in stunning form in the Serie A this season and the lure of Champions League football may well lure Llorente to join the Italian Champions. Juventus look likely to qualify to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and Llorente, who scored 17 goals in 32 appearances for Athletic Bilbao last season, will boost The Bianconeri’s chances of winning the tournament.
Arsenal have been struggling since the departure of Robin Van Persie and the London-based club now sit in 10th position in the league table. Arsene Wenger bought reinforcements in the form of Lucas Podolski and Oliver Giroud but Arsenal still lack a genuine match-winner in their ranks. Marouane Chamakh has not proven to be a very able understudy and Llorente could help to turn Arsenal’s fortunes around this season.
Price is not likely to prove a stumbling block for either club as they will get the forward on a cut-price deal with only 6 months remaining on his contract. There is no shortage of suitors for the talented forward, but the ball is now firmly in Llorente’s court as to which club he wants to join.