Nobody at Tottenham Hotspur needed to google Fernando Llorente. When the news broke on transfer deadline day that the club were in for the World Cup-winning striker from Swansea City, the excitement was palpable. The captain, Hugo Lloris, was on international duty with France and he immediately texted Mauricio Pochettino. Was it true, he asked of the manager?
“I told him: ‘Yes, we are signing Llorente,’” Pochettino said. “Hugo said: ‘Wow, fantastic player.’ That is the impact he has had on the changing room because all the players respect him. They’ve now seen how he is – very warm, very friendly – and it’s fantastic. It’s a big impact for our changing room.”
When the defender Danny Rose demanded that Tottenham invested in the summer transfer market – and not on players he had to look up on the internet – this might have been the sort of thing he had in mind.
Tottenham have enjoyed an additional layer of sweetness in that they beat Chelsea to the punch. Llorente looked set for Stamford Bridge and a reunion with Antonio Conte, under whom he played at Juventus. The Chelsea manager had tried to get him in January only for the striker to say that he would not abandon Swansea in a Premier League relegation fight. This time it was surely a fait accompli.
Enter Tottenham. They have suffered at the hands of their rivals in the past – most notoriously when Willian chose Chelsea over them in 2013 – but not here. Llorente would cost £12m. Pochettino has been unmoved by the one-upmanship. He was concerned simply with upgrading his back-up option to Harry Kane after Vincent Janssen’s toils last season; the club on Friday loaned the Holland striker to Fenerbahce for the remainder of this season. If Pochettino could make a grand statement in the process, then so much the better.
In some respects Llorente, 32, does not fit the club’s age profile, with the manager and the chairman, Daniel Levy, tending to go for younger players with the potential to be developed. But Pochettino knows what he is getting with Llorente – a serial winner and one with the potential to harden Tottenham’s mentality.
Llorente won the Serie A title twice with Juventus, together with the Italian Cup, and the Europa League at Sevilla. He was also a part of the victorious Spain squad at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship. Pochettino is obsessed with positive energy and he can feel it from Llorente. “From day one he has been like a 16- or 17-year-old going to training with the first team for the first time,” Pochettino said.
“That is massive because that energy is fantastic. It’s a very good example for everyone. Not all experienced players can bring what Fernando can bring. It is not because you are 32 or 33 that you are great. Sometimes you are 33 and struggle but, when we had the possibility to sign Fernando, we moved very quickly. He scored 15 league goals at Swansea last season and he can repeat the same with us.”
The most unusual thing about Llorente’s signing is that the manager demands his centre-forwards work tirelessly and represent the first point of the team’s collective defensive press. Kane is the perfect proponent of his style. Llorente, by contrast, will not run in behind or press. Standing at 6ft 4in, he is an x-marks-the-spot threat.
Llorente was slated by Frank Lampard on Match of the Day in April for his performance in Swansea’s 1-0 defeat at Watford, when the statistics showed he had sprinted for only 19.1 metres. His critics say he lends a one-dimensional approach to a team, with the dimension being the high ball into the box.
But Llorente is all about his clever positioning and he has made a living out of being in the right place at the right time. He was crucial to Swansea’s successful campaign against relegation, scoring four of his goals in the final five matches, and his overall return certainly brooked no argument.
“People talk about the running and I do not understand,” Llorente said last May. “When I am in my best form, I will probably run 10 or 11 kilometres a game. I run when I need to run. You compare the stats for tall men and I actually run a lot. I know where I need to be and I do my job.”
Llorente will provide an alternative to Kane and, possibly, an interesting foil for him. He hopes to make his debut at Everton on Saturday having, coincidentally, faced Pochettino on his professional debut for Athletic Bilbao in 2005. Pochettino was in defence for Espanyol and the game finished 1-1. “Fernando remembers it better than me,” the manager said with a smile. “He said to me the other day it was 16 January 2005. I said to him that there was only one thing I remember and that was he didn’t score.”
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