Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta is “optimistic” that Fernando Llorente will sign for the Serie A club, but the striker is likely to join once his contract with Athletic Bilbao ends in June.
Llorente, 27, is unwilling to sign a new deal with the Basque club and is now free to speak with potential suitors as his contract has entered its final six months. Athletic revealed in early January that Juve had contacted them to say they had opened negotiations with the Spain international's advisors.
Marotta says these talks are now “very advanced”, but with Athletic president Josu Urrutia unwilling to countenance a cut-price sale during the current transfer window, a summer deal is now expected.
“We are waiting for news,” Marotta told Sky Italia. “We have looked at players who are out of contract on June 30 and I will not hide that the talks with Llorente, or at least his agents, are very advanced. From that point of view I am very optimistic that it can be finished quickly, although a contract which begins on July 1 is expected.”
Llorente is likely to be on the bench again in Athletic’s La Liga clash with Real Betis on Monday evening, as Los Leones top scorer Aritz Aduriz should recover in time from a muscle problem to start.
The build-up to the game, which marks the 100th anniversary of Athletic’s soon-to-be-demolished San Mames stadium, has again been overshadowed by a row between manager Marcelo Bielsa and one of his players.
The Argentine coach has decided to leave centre-half Fernando Amorebieta out of his squad after the pair had a disagreement at training on Thursday. During a video session, Amorebieta, whose contract is also up this summer, was blamed for a goal in last weekend's 2-1 home defeat to Rayo Vallecano, reportedly leading to a difference of opinion between the defender and coach.
“It is a regular practice that we do every week,” Bielsa said. “The football aspects which can be deduced from the games are the object of analysis between the technical staff and players. I give my point of view and listen to that of the others.”
Bielsa has confirmed that highly-rated Aymeric Laporte will return from suspension to play at centre-back against high-flying Betis.
“He has played a run of games now,” he said. “There are no undroppable starters.”
With Athletic just three points off the relegation zone, Bielsa admits it is his job to try and ease the pressure around the club.
“In moments of adversity the person in charge must think about offering support and absorbing pressure, not the opposite,” he said. “The coach is the one who has the responsibility to offer backing.”