In today’s modern game, where no contract is truly a guarantee of securing a player’s long term future and where loyalties only go so far as to how much a club is willing to pay them, it was perhaps no shock to hear of Fernando Llorente’s public declaration of his intention to depart Athletic Bilbao. But Llorente is no ordinary footballer and Bilbao are no ordinary football club. His decision to seek pastures new is another sign that all is not well in La Liga.
Athletic Bilbao have perhaps one of the most famous recruitment policies in world football at the moment, they only sign and select players who hail from the local Basque region. The Basque region is famous for its fierce local nationalism which has, over the years, manifested itself in terrorist attacks around Europe, in a crude attempt to gain the region its independence from Spain. Therefore Bilbao’s policy of recruiting strictly Basque players have created an inextricable bond between region and club. Youngsters growing up in the Basque region don’t dream of playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid, they grow up wanting to wear the red and white stripes of Los Leones.
Despite their rather restrictive recruitment policy, Bilbao have remained competitive in the highest echelons of the game ever since La Liga was created in 1929. Bilbao have never been relegated, have won La Liga eight times and as recently as May 2012 were competing in the Europa League final. Bilbao have always been able to find a way to win, to stay relevant and most importantly, play football the correct way. They are loved by many, respected by most. Their Basque only policy has also meant that Athletic do not have to pay extravagant transfer fees or wages, and as such, are that rare club in Spain who are not currently facing financial meltdown. They do not have to sell to survive. Enter Fernando Llorente.
Llorente is Basque through and through, born in Pamplona, he has been a part of the Athletic setup since the tender age of 11. As his career progressed and he became one of La Liga’s and indeed Europe’s top strikers, Llorente became the face of a new and exciting Athletic team, a team that is now brimming with youthful exuberance and promise, exemplified by Iker Munain and Javi Martinez. But overreach in the Europa League and a failure to qualify for the Champions League may have forced Llorente’s hand, although you feel this side is not far away, especially given the current climate in La Liga.
Llorente’s intention to leave the Spanish outfit, underlines a problem in La Liga, that the teams under Barca and Real Madrid can no longer keep hold of their best players. Bilbao had been the last bastion of consistency, as once great clubs such as Valencia, Villarreal and Malaga were forced to sell off prize assets to keep going. The sad truth is, that La Liga is a shell of its former great self, and now one of its great clubs, Bilbao, are staring that cold hard reality in the face, even though they have kept their finances in order. The modern game has finally caught up with Bilbao. After building successfully over the past few seasons following Llorente’s statement and the resignation of former manager Marcelo Bielsa uncertain times are ahead for the Spanish club.
Fernando Llorente has been linked with the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, it appears as though a move to the Barclays Premier League would interest the Spaniard. But Juventus appear to be the front-runners in the race to sign Llorente having already stepped up their interest with a series of bids. If Llorente does leave the Spanish outfit, the club will find it very hard to replace the talented striker with the clubs current wage structure and policy also a major hinderance.
You can view a video of the talented Spanish striker in action below:
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