Italian giant Juventus on Thursday announced on its website that it had reached agreement with Athletic Bilbao to acquire the services of Spain striker Fernando Llorente as of July 1.
The news will be a relief to Llorente, who has been in a footballing purgatory ever since his determination to leave San Mamés was made public last summer. Since then, the World Cup-winner and former darling of La Catedral fans has started just four games for the club, often under a deluge of bile from the home support. In his first game in the red-and-white shirt after winning the European Championship with Spain — although he didn’t set foot on the field — against Slaven Belupo, Athletic fans jeered his every touch. “That day influenced my decision,” Llorente, who broke into the first team seven years ago, said during the winter break.
But the die had been cast before then; when Llorente returned from Poland and Ukraine, he decided he was worth more money and asked that his salary be upped to the level of other comparable secondary international strikers. Athletic did a spot of market research, made an offer in the region of the earnings of Gonzalo Higuaín, Roberto Soldado and Álvaro Negredo, and saw it refused by the player. That Llorente’s agent, and brother, was after a slice of the action of any new contract arrangement did little to smooth negotiations.
Llorente’s attitude in training — which led coach Marcelo Bielsa to send him home on one occasion — also drew the ire of fans.
Juventus could barely contain its glee at what is something of a coup, taking Llorente’s profile rather than the past six months into account. “The Lion King” and a “real striker” were two of the plaudits gushing from Turin.
“The coach [Antonio Conte] knows that Fernando will not only guarantee goals but can also participate in the collective play to keep the ball and supply the wingers,” said Juventus. “And we don’t think he’ll have problems with Italian defenders because he has the build and intelligence to face up to them.”