Spanish striker Fernando Llorente has been linked with all and sundry this summer – first, he was going to Arsenal, then Spurs, then maybe Manchester City, or maybe Arsenal….or Spurs. By why has the Spaniard only recently been found on the radar, despite playing 237 games for Athletic Bilbao, since making his debut in 2005?
Although he was born in Pamplona, Llorente was raised in La Rioja, in Northern Spain and – at the tender age of 11 – he entered the Bilbao youth system in 1996.
He worked his way up the ranks with spells spent at feeder clubs Baskonia and Bilbao Athletic, Segunda Division B reserves of his current club.
He made his first-team La Liga debut in January 2005 in a 1-1 draw at home to Espanyol and three days later scored a hat trick for the ‘Los Leones’ against Lanzarote in the Copa del Rey.
Since then he has become a staple of the Bilbao first-team – netting 82 goals for the club. At 6ft 5’, his physical presence is alarming to opposing defenders. His appetite for heading in particular, earned him his nickname ‘The Lion King’.
But the number 9 has become somewhat of enigma in La Liga – amongst both fans and journalists – his classification as a traditional ‘target-man’ could perhaps be attributed more to La Liga teams’ lack of physicality in general and, furthermore their vulnerability to aerial threats.
Subsequently, the striker’s technique with the ball at his feet has often been overlooked. It has become a regular occurrence for Bilbao and Spain fans alike to watch the frontman isolated by the tiki-taka play that often precludes his involvement.
However, as soon as the Spaniard smells a direct ball he darts from the shoulder of the last man into deadly areas inside the box, often with devastating consequences to the opposing defence.
Llorente possesses an exceptional first-touch and a striker’s natural sensibility to find the back of the net. His finishing has developed over the years and, coupled with his physical size and strength, he has become a formidable and dangerous opponent.
For his country, his first international goal came against England in a friendly in 2009 and has since been a regular squad player for the Spanish national team. This, perhaps, is where his ‘target-man’ status has negatively hampered his career – with competition for places seeing him rival both David Villa and Fernando Torres up front, ‘the other Fernando’ has struggled to stake his claim.
At 27 years old, recent speculation of a big-money move to the Premier League may prove to be his last chance to improve his third-choice status on the Spanish pecking order.
image: © birasuegi