We continue our look at players being linked with Liverpool – this time it’s a more ambitious signing but one who is widely expected to leave his current club in 2013, with his contract at Bilboa expiring in the summer.
Date of birth: 26 February 1985 (age 27)
Place of birth: Pamplona, Navarra
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Fernando Llorente, nicknamed El Rey León (The Lion King), joined Athletic Bilbao’s youth system in 1996. He got his La Liga debut 16 January 2005, and has since been a regular feature in Athletic’s first team. In 243 league appearances he has netted 82 times; not too dissimilar to the numbers another Fernando Torres had before joining LFC.
Standing at 6’5 (195 cm) with a powerful frame to support it, he can obviously hold his own against most centre backs. Little chance of bullying this guy off the ball without fouling him. He uses his size and strength well, both to shield the ball and link up with his teammates, and also to maneuver inside the penalty area. This also makes him valuable at both offensive and defensive set pieces.
However, there is more than what meets the eye. He’s got a good touch and close control, and is generally a very intelligent and technically sound player. Plus, he can finish with both feet. Even though many of his goals come from inside the penalty area, he’s also capable of powering them in from outside the box. His goals against Manchester United last season probably sums up what he’s capable of: At Old Trafford he was involved in the build-up, setting up the winger before attacking the box (Andy Carroll, take note); while his exquisite volley at San Mamés was all about intelligent movement and wonderful technique. The common denominator: Timing.
His career stats of one in three in La Liga may not suggest he’s the natural goal scorer many crave for, but in his last two seasons his record says 35 goals in 61 starts. Also, he has reached double figures the last five seasons while playing for a mid table side in one of Europe’s top leagues, which makes him a pretty consistent and reliable hitman. Looking at his stats in total this season, two goals and three assists in seventeen appearances doesn’t make for impressive reading; but if we take the fact that he only started three of those games into account, it suddenly doesn’t look that bad.
As with most top strikers, there are no obvious ones. He doesn’t have the raw pace that is so valuable and sought after in modern football, but then again his game has never depended on it. He makes up for it with his physique, intelligence and ability.
This is what Gerard Pique, arguably one of the finest defenders in Europe, had to say about Llorente a couple of years ago: “I really suffer when I play against him. He’s strong, he uses his body well, he’s quick, he pushes you about. He’s a great striker.”
This immediately sounds like a player who would have little trouble adapting to English football. You know, the kind who could do it on a cold night at the Britannia.
In the right team, in the right role within the right framework, every player will adapt to the Premier League – if he’s got the quality and the right attitude. That’s not a fact, but rather a not so mind-blowing or controversial hypothesis. In Fernando Llorente’s case there’s little doubt about the quality, and even though he has been moping around for a few months now since refusing to sign a new contract in August, there’s not much of a reason to doubt his attitude and hunger to prove himself. From an outside perspective, a new environment could be exactly what he needs to fulfill his potential and cement his name as one of the best strikers around.
One valid question is: Will a traditional #9 suit the way Brendan Rodgers wants to shape his attack? 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 is the way we line up, and with Luis Suarez being his main man I personally have serious doubts about Rodgers wanting to buy a big name striker to spearhead our attack. Based on how Suarez plays the game it would make much more sense to get two quick wingers/wide forwards to play on either side of him and support him; someone who can exploit the gaps he creates when dropping deep or pulling out wide, and get in behind the opposition’s defense.
Conversely, this can also be used as a pro argument when debating Llorente. Since we don’t use wingers whose job description is to stay out wide and deliver crosses, but rather use wide forwards who can create width when needed and tuck in between the lines when needed, it’s also conceivable seeing Suarez in one of those two wide positions, with a more speedy runner thrown into the mix to complete the trio.
After the contract debacle and his fallout with Athletic head coach Marcelo Bielsa, Llorente has hardly featured for Bilbao this season compared to what he’s used to. Out of the nine times he has been involved he has only started once, and with his contract set to expire this summer the writing is clearly on the wall. Rumours of his departure have been circulating for quite some time now, and his relationships with both club and Bielsa seem to be beyond repair, which makes it difficult to see him stay until the summer window.
Now, is Liverpool a realistic option? Juventus have reportedly been sniffing around since July, and seem to be the likely destination. Chelsea are also believed to be in the market for a striker, and even though there’s been talks of them signing Radamel Falcao, one can never know. A billionaire playing real life Football Manager should never be underestimated. Then we have the likes of Arsenal and Spurs, who also are capable of attracting big players.
Abramovich or not; the fact is that a very good striker is on the move, most likely for a favourable price unless a serious bidding war kicks off. His true market value is probably in the region of £25m, but given his situation he’ll probably go for somewhere between ten and fifteen million. Unless his wage demands are off the charts, Liverpool FC should therefore be able to compete financially. The final question mark is whether he’s the right type of player or not; and if he is: Can the men in charge convince him to choose LFC over fighting for league titles and Champions League football?