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Aug 8, 2012

Llorente set to leave Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente has reportedly told the club he wants to leave to play Champions League football, with Serie A holders Juventus poised to make a €20 million offer.

Llorente, 27, has made up his mind to reject a new contract offer and move on, according to Basque TV station ETB.

"Fernando Llorente wants to leave the club and he communicated that decision to its directors last Friday," reported ETB's website on Tuesday. "The player says sporting reasons are behind his decision."

Spanish newspaper Marca claimed Wednesday that Juventus would bid €20 million for the player, who has just 12 months remaining on his existing deal and is refusing to sign an extension worth €4.5 million a year. Manchester City were last season linked with the powerful forward, whose release clause is €36 million, while Tottenham are also showing interested.

'Lion king' Llorente was previously revered by fans in Bilbao, and scored in both legs as Athletic eased past Premier League side Manchester United in last season's Europa League quarter-final. With his future uncertain he was however whistled by sections of the San Mames crowd during a substitute appearance in last Thursday's 3-1 Europa League third round qualifier first leg win over SK Slaven.

On Tuesday, Athletic goalkeeper and captain Gorka Iraizoz defended his team-mate and said Llorente would not be affected by the criticism.

"(Llorente) is a very strong person," said Iraizoz. "Despite what is happening he will continue to be a vital player. None of us like to hear a team-mate being whistled in their home stadium."

A World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, Llorente scored 30 goals last season, despite rarely being 100% fit due to a series of niggling injuries. He was below his best as Athletic lost both the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals, and was then an unused squad member for La Roja at Euro 2012.

Llorente looks set to begin Thursday's second leg in Croatia from the bench again, as he recovers full fitness after beginning pre-season later than his team-mates due to his international commitments.

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