£34m Real Madrid star wanted to replace £30m Manchester United signing Herrera at La Liga side Bilbao

Real Madrid's Asier Illarramendi is wanted as cover for Manchester United's Ander Herrera at his former side Athletic Bilbao.

It was a year ago that Real Madrid paid Real Sociedad a staggering £34 million to sign Asier Illarramendi.

The midfielder was coming off the back of a terrific season in helping Sociedad finish fourth in La Liga, and played a key role in Spain's under-21 side winning the 2013 European Championships.

Billed as the 'next Xabi Alonso', he was seen as key in Carlo Ancelotti's plan to build his Real Madrid side around a core of Spanish talent, along with Isco and Jese Rodriguez.

12 months on and Illarramendi is at a crossroads already. The 24-year-old made only 15 La Liga starts last season, in a midfield where Sami Khedira was out injured for more than half the season.

So far in three early season matches in the UEFA Super Cup and the two-legs of the Spanish Super Cup, Illarramendi has played a total of just four minutes.

Now reports in Spanish newspaper AS are linking him with a switch to Athletic Bilbao, where he would strengthen a midfield weakened by the departure of £30 million Ander Herrera to Manchester United.

This is prompted by Sami Khedira's reported decision to stay at Real, rather than try to force a move this transfer window.

"Ancelotti's words on the importance of Khedira will leave Ilarra as the biggest casualty at Madrid. He would become the fifth midfielder (after Kroos, Xabi Alonso, Modric and Khedira) and it is possible that he can go on loan before August 31. The most interested in taking the midfielder is Athletic, who need a way to cover the departure of Ander Herrera, who went to United."

Bilbao themselves are locked in an intriguing Champions League qualifying tie against Napoli, a contest poised at 1-1 after the first leg.

Should they get through, the option of sending Illarramendi may be more tempting to Real, so he can get some game time at the top level.

Carlo Ancelotti may be reluctant to loan out a player he signed for a huge figure, but he is surely certain not to retrieve anywhere near the same figure if sold.

With Khedira's contract to expire next summer and Xabi Alonso 32, Illarramendi is still a good longer term option for the club. Sending him out to a competitive side where he can play regularly rather than sit on the bench may be best for his career and chances of success.

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