A new version of the ‘Llorente case’. The president of Athletic, Aitor Elizegi, denied this Thursday his sports director, Rafa Alkorta, who on Tuesday acknowledged that the day before he had started a negotiation with the Rioja striker to sign him. “That’s a lie,” the top rojiblanco leader has now assured questions from journalists in a surprising press conference. Elizegi has maintained that the club did not contact or negotiate with Llorente, only spoke with him at the request of the footballer himself. According to his account, it was the player from Rincón de Soto, who has a contract with Napoli, who “knocked on the door” of the club to return, and not the opposite as indicated by the sports director. Rafa Alkorta explained just two days ago that it had been important footballers in the first squad who had asked for the signing of Llorente on Monday morning, who had previously been consulted about his willingness to land in Bilbao and the salary he would be willing to charge. The sports director also acknowledged that he himself had spoken with the former world champion in South Africa, with whom he is very close friends, and that it was the board of directors that pushed back the hiring due to “lack of consensus.”
Nothing to do with what the head of the club explained this Thursday. “The doors of Ibaigane do not slam on anyone”, “we listen to everyone who knocks on our door”, insisted Elizegi, tense and distant in his answers – on up to three occasions he has urged journalists to reformulate their questions-. The president wanted to emphasize that Athletic has signed the player who was a «priority for the club», alluding to Álex Berenguer. And that an offer was also presented for Javi Martínez. Despite the insistence of journalists, the rojiblanco president has avoided clarifying how contacts with Llorente were reversed and if there was division in the board of directors. Nor has it clarified whether he agreed to the hiring of the forward, who turns 36 in February.
The president did confirm that several footballers had demanded the incorporation of Llorente. “We listen to our players.” «I do not know the opinion of all of them (the footballers), only of some. I know that of my managers, which is very important. It is the important one and the one that looks after the club, “insisted Elizegi. Faced with the uproar unleashed in recent days, the president claimed his role and that of the board in recent months: “Six months tried to get the team out of descent and eight months governing with a global pandemic,” he reiterated in reference to the health crisis and economic caused by Covid.
As the rojiblanco president has reiterated, the sports management has been pending these months of the summer market of the possible reinforcements of Athletic. “The management explores all the possibilities it has in the summer market to strengthen itself, and puts them on the table, and they are valued.” Of all these possibilities there was one, Berenguer, “in which we all agreed, and that player is with us,” Elizegi stressed, explaining that the ‘Llorente case’ was not something that had been raised in the list of reinforcement. In fact, he recalled that in the press conference prior to the match against Alavés, Gaizka Garitano closed the door to possible incorporations after the arrival of the Torino footballer. «On Saturday Garitano declared the arrival of more players canceled, I was in Lezama. So I don’t know who activates the operation, the club doesn’t and neither does Gaizka, of course. On Saturday with Gaizka we considered the market closed ”, the Athletic president has settled, leaving in the air the question of how the frustrated option of signing Llorente on Monday, on the last market day, had arisen.
The response has been more surprising and disconcerting if one takes into account what Rafa Alkorta had explained on Tuesday. “There was no movement from the club towards this player on Monday,” Elizegi reaffirmed. “It is not true,” he insisted, “but be careful, this club talks to the player, but does not initiate a negotiation with him.” At this moment of the press conference, Elizegi’s words have turned his eyes to Fernando Llorente’s surroundings as the promoter of the contacts, since the rojiblanco maximum president has said that “You have to respect anyone who knocks on Athletic’s door, you won’t see a door slam.”
The turn of events has left a doubt and a question in the air. Rafa Alkorta acknowledged that it had been the players or some of them who had activated the Llorente option but from the directive the opposite message is sent, what happened on Monday. At this point, the sporting director has reacted to a question and stated that “I said they called me, I didn’t say they started anything”, regarding the incidence of the Athletic squad players on the Llorente issue. Here the president has taken up the floor and in a conciliatory gesture with his footballers, has assured that «The players have an opinion about a respectable workmate, thankfully they have the ability to share it with the club, and the club acts accordingly. With all the players, we had a summer market on the table, and the player we all wanted was Berenguer, we all wanted him, and he’s at home «.
For the rest, Elizegi has defended Garitano –“The squad we have and how they have bet on those players, in their hands are great players and that is the job of our coach, those trusts between young and old” –, has praised the work of its board of directors and has closed ranks around its coach and sports director. «The club is still strong and trusts its professionals. There is a direction and a vision of what happens, a single direction around Rafa and Gaizka, I see a consensus in Lezama that I haven’t seen for a long time.