Fernando Llorente is on the market, and many of Europe’s top soccer clubs are ready to descend on Spain’s Basque region. After all, it’s not every day that a world and European championship-winning striker becomes available.
On Tuesday, Llorente confirmed his desire to leave Athletic Bilbao when his contract expires in June. Having spent his entire career at the Spanish club, the 27-year old says he’s ready to play in another country, according to Football Espana.
“Yes, I’m leaving on 30 June,” he said “Is the decision firm? Yes, I took that decision when I played my first match at San Mames in the UEFA Europa League [against Slaven Koprivnica on August 2] and I saw this whole situation that had derived.”
“That made me sad and I decided not to renew. I also want to try other things. I have been European and world champion, I have played for years at a high level.”
Llorente, a graduate of Bilbao’s academy, made his first-team debut in January 2005. He has been an ever-present figure in the lineup since the 2007-08 season, blossoming from young talent into an international-caliber player. He was part of Spain’s FIFA World Cup winning squad in 2010, as well as its victorious Euro 2012 squad. He scored 28 goals in all competitions for Bilbao last season. His strikes powered Bilbao to the finals of both the Europa League and the Copa Del Rey (Spanish Cup).
The towering striker reportedly told Bilbao officials that he wanted to leave the club last August. They took a hard stance and resisted other teams’ approaches for the player, hoping he would reconsider. The resulting tension caused his relationships with club president Josu Urrutia and manager Marcelo Bielsa to deteriorate, and he has spent most of this season on the bench.
Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Juventus are among the clubs thought to be interested in signing Llorente. Manchester City was also rumored to be monitoring his situation.
Llorente’s contract reportedly contains a £28 million ($45.1 million) release clause, but it’s highly unlikely any team will pay that amount for a player who is in the final year of his deal. Bilbao rejected a £14 million ($22.5 million) offer from Juventus in August. It may have to accept a lower price in January or risk losing him for free next summer.
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