La Liga: Fallen hero Llorente eyes Bilbao exit
Athletic’s striker is heading for the door. Meanwhile, Barcelona tighten their grip on the league title.
By Halima Ali
When Athletic Bilbao took to the pitch at the Iberostar Stadium at the weekend, Fernando Llorente was on the bench. It is a place the once-talismanic striker has become accustomed to, as he has been occupying that spot pretty much all season.
He wasn’t needed as Aritz Aduriz’s 11th-minute header condemned Real Mallorca to defeat – for the ninth time in 11 league games.
The visitors went ahead early on at the Iberostar Stadium with their first serious attack as Andoni Iraola – who has returned after missing several weeks through injury – launched a high ball up to the far post, where Aduriz rose to head into the far corner of the goal.
However, the visitors had goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz to thank for the win as Mallorca went on to create plenty of opportunities to get back in the game with efforts from Giovani Dos Santos, Tomer Hemed and Víctor Casadesús.
The win moves Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao nine points clear of the relegation zone and though they did not need Llorente, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference even if they did. El Rey León, once the poster boy of Bilbao, who helped his side to last season’s Europa Cup final, scoring in both legs against Manchester United before spending the summer winning Euro 2012 with La Roja at Euro 2012, has endured a torrid time of late. Coming off the back of such a successful season, he could not have imagined that come December, he would be preparing his exit from the club, nor that he would be leaving so acrimoniously.
He will most likely not be packing his bags until the summer. But with the January transfer window fast approaching, Llorente has finally confirmed his departure – putting several European sides on alert – from the club where he has spent his entire career.
The striker turned down the club’s offer of a new contract in the summer but Bilbao refused to negotiate with other clubs and supporters were left disillusioned by their hometown hero. He has started only once in la liga this season and has scored one goal.
Citing the first Europa League game at the San Mamés in August when he was jeered by his own fans as the day he made his decision, he explained: “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.”
He added: “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.”
In recent weeks the strained relationship has deteriorated further. In November, player and club differed in their accounts of his no-show at a scheduled press conference.
Fifpro – The worldwide trade union for professional footballers – has also waded in and called for an end to what it claims is “blackmail behaviour” by some football clubs who are putting players under pressure to prolong their contracts and freezing them out of first-team action if they refuse, citing the case of Llorente as well as Wesley Sneijder at Inter Milan, though Bilbao maintain the decision is purely for tactical reasons.
So where next for Llorente? He has denied that a deal with Juventus – who were after his services in the summer – is already in place and while he may have plenty of suitors in the Premier League with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in the frame, what is certain is that he will finally make a move away from his boyhood club in the next few months.
Elsewhere, Barcelona appear to have sewn up the liga title before Christmas, by beating second-placed Atlético Madrid 4-1 in the Camp Nou. Barça are now nine points clear of Atlético, and 13 points clear of José Mourinho’s Real Madrid, who drew 2-2 with Espanyol.
Celta de Vigo 0 – 1 Real Betis
Deportivo La Coruña 0 – 0 Real Valladolid
FC Barcelona 4 – 1 Atlético Madrid
Real Madrid 2 – 2 RCD Espanyol
Valencia CF 0 – 1 Rayo Vallecano
Real Zaragoza 0 – 1 Levante UD
Sevilla FC 0 – 2 Málaga CF
Granada CF 0 – 0 Real Sociedad
RCD Mallorca 0 – 1 Athletic Bilbao
Getafe CF 1 – 1 Osasuna
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Published: Dec 18 2012
Category: Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=7639
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Tags: barcelona, la liga, Liga, Mourinho, Real Madrid, spain, Spain football, spain soccer, spanish football, Spanish soccer