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Aug 9, 2012

'Llorente won't renew with Bielsa'

Fernando Llorente's contract saga took another twist when reports claimed he was unlikely to renew with Athletic Bilbao while Marcelo Bielsa is manager of the club.

A report on Spanish website vozpopuli states that the Llorente's relationship with Bielsa has broken down to such an extent that the Basque striker does not want to continue under his management.

Llorente, 27, has played his entire career with Athletic but is said to be unhappy with the regime under Bielsa, which has seen the club's philosophy entirely change, with the manager focusing on a quick passing, high-tempo style of play. It has not suited the target man, who thrived under Joaquin Caparros when he was the focal point of the team's play.

The striker, who has 20 caps for Spain, only has one year left on his current deal and is one of the most sought-after players in European football, being linked to an array of top clubs, such as Manchester City and Juventus. Athletic state that they are yet to receive an offer for the "Lion King", but may have to think about cutting their losses before the end of the summer transfer window and selling Llorente to avoid him leaving on a free transfer in 2013.

Llorente has become one of the club's most popular figures, and has consistently been their top goalscorer in recent seasons, but he is taking on a powerful adversary in Bielsa, who took Athletic to two cup finals last season, giving the supporters hope that the zurigorri could return to their glory days of the 1970s and 1980s. The San Mames faithful booed their No. 9 in the recent Europa League qualifier against Slaven Belupo due to his unwillingness to renew his contract.

Bielsa is also said to be frustrated with Llorente after his two disappointing performances in the Europa League and Copa del Rey final defeats, which saw relationships reach an all-time low. The problem for the player is that he spent much of the campaign suffering from injuries but was forced to play on due to the lack of other striking options, meaning he struggled to get through many games and had to be repeatedly subbed. He then travelled to Euro 2012 not fully fit, which is one of the main reasons he failed to make an appearance at the tournament.

In the pre-match press conference for the second leg of the Europa League qualifier, Bielsa said: "It's a private matter not yet resolved." He added: "I want the best for the team, the player and the club."

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