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Bielsa plays down Llorente row

Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa has admitted to a serious difference of opinion with star striker Fernando Llorente at training earlier this week, but says the incident has been blown out of proportion by the media.

Bielsa was speaking as the Basque club look to get their season back on track with a Europa League Group I trip to Sparta Prague on Thursday evening.

On Monday, Basque television showed pictures of an argument between Bielsa and Llorente during a practice match, which ended with the coach pointing to the dressing-rooms and the centre-forward walking off the training pitch. Local papers then revealed that the dispute continued in the coach's office, where a further frank exchange of views took place.

The Argentine coach, known as 'El Loco', gave his side of what had happened during his official UEFA press conference on Wednesday evening in Prague.

"At training on Monday, I told him to leave before it had finished," Bielsa said. "I decided that his behaviour was not as desired and he should not continue. Fernando thought he was giving his all and he let me know that. I understood that he could have given more. I am not saying it was desired, but these things happen in football. The public character (of the row) meant it was given more importance."

After turning down a new contract offer last summer Llorente has yet to start a game for Athletic this season. With just one year remaining on his current deal the €30 million rated Spanish international continues to be linked with a transfer to Serie A champions Juventus, either in January for a knock-down price or next summer for free.

After a troubled summer which included Bielsa rowing with builders over renovation works at Lezama, and Javi Martinez forcing through his transfer to Bayern Munich, Athletic have begun the season under a cloud. Sunday's 2-0 defeat at local rivals Real Sociedad dropped them to 18th in the Primera Division table, with just five points from their opening six games.

Bielsa, who has said that he would leave if it became clear that his presence was a problem for Athletic's star players, admitted the atmosphere around the Bilbao camp could be better. "The Llorente subject is something small compared to the sporting situation of the team, which I need to respond to," he said. "You would hope it did not happen. Everyone, especially me, was very sensitive after having lost the derby. The mood was not the best."

Some welcome good news for Athletic fans is the return of Ander Herrera to the squad after a groin operation. The playmaker is expected to join Llorente on the bench against Sparta, while Fernando Amorebieta could come into the team at centre-half.

Other La Liga sides in Europa League action Wednesday are Atletico Madrid, who are looking for a record 15th straight European victory at home to Viktoria Plzen, and Levante, who travel to Hannover 96 hoping to build on their opening day victory over Helsingborgs.


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