By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It’s not about the money. Fernando Llorente was offered over €5 million per annum to sign a new, long-term contract at Athletic Bilbao and, based in the Basque Country, he was set to benefit from one of Spain’s lowest tax bands. The proposal, he said, was “irresistible” – yet he has resisted and announced earlier this week that he will leave the Spanish side in the summer, when his contract ends.
That means he will abandon the club for free as the Basque outfit have ruled out a January exit for their star striker, who has found himself on the bench for long spells this term and has admitted he has been affected by all of the speculation concerning his future.
Athletic had previously claimed they would only sell the Spain striker for his release clause of €36 million, but the summer window came and went, and the Basque outfit were confident they could persuade the player to sign a new deal. Now, however, he looks likely to walk away for free in the summer.
Here, Goal.com takes a look at the clubs who could be keen to sign Llorente in 2013.
Arsenal have long been linked with a move for Llorente, and Arsene Wenger is an admirer of the Athletic forward, but the Gunners boss is set to persist with Olivier Giroud and his top target remains Atletico Madrid striker Adrian Lopez, as previously revealed by Goal.com.
Wenger believes Adrian is ideally suited to the Gunners’ system and could take advantage of Atletico’s debts to sign the striker, much like the deal to bring in midfielder Santi Cazorla from Malaga last summer.
However, Wenger values a bargain and with wages the only outlay, the Frenchman may be tempted to move for the World Cup winner. Without Champions League football, however, the player will likely look elsewhere anyway.
Llorente is a smart fellow and he knows exactly what the situation is at Barcelona – any centre forward must switch position or play second fiddle to Lionel Messi.
Barca boss Tito Vilanova likes Llorente, but is already struggling to give game time to Spain’s greatest goalscorer, David Villa, so the Pamplona-born forward will be wary of a move to Camp Nou – even if the Catalans do show interest in the summer. And such a move is only likely to be considered if Villa looks to move in search of more first-team opportunities.
Llorente would provide a valuable option for Vilanova, but would likely be nothing but a ‘Plan B’ at Barca and is therefore unlikely to fancy a move to Catalunya.
Juventus were keen to sign Llorente last summer, but only offered half of his release clause. And Athletic wanted the whole €36 million.
The Italian champions are thought to be preparing a cut-price €7m bid for January as they continue to scour the market for a top-class goalscorer, but with Athletic claiming they will not sell their player this winter, they are likely to have to wait for the summer scrap for the striker.
A free transfer will appeal to La Vecchia Signora, although the Turin-based side’s top target is Borussia Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski.
Liverpool have tracked Llorente for several seasons, but the Reds are unlikely to be able to offer the one thing the striker wants above all else – Champions League football.
Llorente has featured in the Europa League for Athletic and appeared in the final of the competition last season, but is aware that his chances of playing in the continent’s premier club competition with the Bilbao side are remote. Champions League football is therefore a must at his next team and that is almost certain to rule out Liverpool.
At the moment, Liverpool would be something of a sideways step for the striker, although Anfield remains a possible destination for the 27-year-old, who has previously hinted that the Premier League could be his next destination.
Real Madrid were keen to sign Llorente after the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2010 and the player recently received an ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd when he came off the bench for Athletic in the Basques’ league match last month.
Mourinho is an admirer, but much will depend on the future of Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine was given assurances over his future in the summer but is currently out injured and looks to have fallen behind Karim Benzema in the pecking order once again.
Athletic, meanwhile, will do everything in their power to avoid the striker joining one of their Spanish rivals but, once his contract is up, they will have little say in his decision. A move to the Bernabeu, then, cannot be ruled out.
Tottenham remain in the hunt for a world-class striker. Jermain Defoe is in red-hot form for the White Hart Lane outfit this term, but Emmanuel Adebayor has disappointed after moving permanently to the north London club in the summer and Clint Dempsey has not entirely convinced coach Andre Villas-Boas.
Spurs bid €30m for Llorente in January of last year, having also tried to sign a host of other forwards from La Liga, including Giuseppe Rossi and Sergio Aguero. Last summer, the Londoners also tried to sign Roberto Soldado from Valencia.
To have any chance of bringing in Llorente in the summer, Villas-Boas’ side must secure Champions League football for next season.
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