Very on the radar of Roberto Mancini's Manchester City, if newspaper reports are to be believed, but haven't we been here before?
Football suffers from anterograde amnesia.
There tends to be an overriding trend amongst lovers of the Beautiful Game to live in the moment, focusing on the last match to evaluate the progress of an individual or a team. Harry Redknapp has been labelled as the nation’s saviour one minute before being described as an intransigent squad rotator who may have destroyed Spurs’ hopes of Champions League qualification the next. It is funny how a consecutive victories or defeats can shift public opinion so quickly.
Athletic Bilbao have attracted unanimous praise for the way they have stylishly steered their way into the Europa League final against Atlético Madrid in Bucharest.
In the UK, Channel Five have acted as Bilbao’s portal to the English football fan since they knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League at the last 16 stage this season. Jim Rosenthal has constantly reminded viewers that the channel have ‘adopted’ Bilbao, with the imperious smirk of a tactical sage.
Rosenthal is merely an example of the parochial focus that the British media adopts due to the fact that the Premier League is ‘The bestest of the best Leagues in the whole entire universe.’ After all, Athletic had been playing an enterprising brand of football throughout their European campaign before a defeat of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men thrust them into the British spotlight. Head coach Marcelo Bielsa has been hailed as a tactical genius, guiding his Basque Bulls to glory from a crouching Tiger stance on the touchline. The Argentine has been rewarded for his team’s expansive play by being linked to jobs at the Nou Camp and the San Siro despite only taking over the reins at the start of the season. As a man with a reputation for studying the intricacies of the game with a fanatical eye, Bielsa can not be accused of selective memory lapses. A reasonable chunk of the 56-year-old’s success at San Mames can be attributed to the man of the moment on the pitch - Fernando Llorente.
Llorente has spearheaded Athletic’s attack this season, scoring seven goals in fourteen Europa League outings, including the decisive strike against Sporting Lisbon in the semi-final to ensure he will be at the centre of a prolonged transfer tussle, most likely between the Manchester clubs this summer. The Spaniard is being touted to move to England for a fee of £31.6million, which would trigger a release clause in his contract. If the 27-year-old can add to his seven goals in twenty international appearances at the European Championships this summer, he will be on his way to replicating the global form of, erm, Peter Crouch – no wonder City are prepared to offer Llorente £200,000 a week.....
It is likely that Llorente could find himself contributing to Manchester City’s possible defence of their Premier League crown next term. Edin Dzeko is unlikely to partner him though.
The Bosnian looks set to return to Germany, with either Munich or Dortmund the likely destination after a disappointing fifteen months in the north west. It is fair to say that Dzeko has not lived up to his £27million price-tag and he has been laughed off as another victim of football’s amnesia endemic. In 2009, Dzeko and Grafite formed the deadliest strike partnership in Bundesliga history as they fired Wolfsburg to their inaugural league title with 54 goals between them; a record that surpassed Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness’ 53 strikes for Bayern Munich during the 1971-72 campaign. So, could Dzeko’s relative failure in Manchester be explained by his innate requirement to play alongside a regular partner?
Security has never been offered to Dzeko at Eastlands, especially with the likes of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli rocking the boat; not to mention the ever reliable Sergio Aguero virtually penning his own name on Roberto Mancini’s team-sheet. Dzeko requires a solid relationship to be at his best and the Etihad does not provide the most solid of foundations for a partnership to flourish. Is it Dzeko’s fault or City’s or is he just another example of football focusing on the present day?
In England, Dzeko has failed to reach his potential, but he is likely to improve if he returns to the Bundesliga. History dictates that he is attracted to the work of German net manufacturers. Dzeko has had his moments - scoring four goals against Tottenham earlier this season for example - but does he still look like the player who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2009? Thirteen goals from twenty-eight Premier League games this season isn’t bad considering Dzeko has made twelve of those appearance off the bench. He is still regarded as a flop in England in relation to the his transfer fee and Manchester City are prepared to lose a significant chunk of the large investment they made in a player that is contracted to the club until 2015.
Llorente is a more robust player than Dzeko and the Basque striker appears to be better suited to the English game. Llorente’s aerial prowess could open up options for a City side that already boasts the more technically gifted players such as Aguero or, if he is not teeing off in Argentina, Carlos Tevez. Llorente possesses the ability to play as a lone striker being supported by direct wingers and for this reason alone, Mancini may have pinpointed why he is a better option than Dzeko.
However, it is debatable whether physicality in the air is enough to warrant the hefty transfer fee that Llorente would cost. Nevertheless the Spanish striker has more in his locker and has the potential to hit the ground running for any future employer, just as Dzeko did in recent times but that is history, or another example of how quickly people forget about a player’s potential. Instant results are required nowadays or else a player will be deemed a failure. For a man whose full name is Fernando Llorente Torres, lessons can be learnt from his near namesake compatriot when it comes to performing well following a gargantuan money move.
Both men have dealt with larger issues than football during their childhoods. Dzeko was six years old when war broke out in Sarajevo and his childhood experiences have led to him becoming a UNICEF ambassador. Llorente grew up in a region simmering with nationalist tension and he may have had to answer a few critics closer to home as he went on to win a World Cup with Spain in 2008. Since their tumultuous early years, both Dzeko and Llorente burst on to the wider English football stage at the Theatre of Dreams with goals against Manchester United in Europe. Llorente scored in both legs as Athletic eliminated the Red Devils at the Last sixteen stage this season and Dzeko scored his first Champions League goal during a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2009. Let’s not forget that a decent season in Europe doesn’t necessarily mean that a team, or individual, are the best at what they do; Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan have Champions League winners medals after all.
Dzeko has never replicated his Wolfsburg form and it will be interesting to see if Llorente can continue to shine without the guiding light of Bielsa leading him the way. City may have more of a fight on their hands to capture Llorente’s signature than they did for Dzeko. Not only will Mancini have to outmanoeuvre his purple cheeked rival from across the city, the Italian will also face stiff competition from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barca have identified Llorente as their primary target this summer as they look to find a ‘Second Way’ of playing to snatch the impetus back off Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
Llorente may, or may not, live up to his burgeoning reputation but he certainly won’t perform well enough to justify the price that will inevitably be paid to Bilbao to secure his services, but that is a wider argument regarding inflation for another day. Dzeko is nicknamed the ‘Bosnian Diamond’ but he just seems to be stuck in the rough right now, whilst Spain’s ‘Lion King’ Llorente appears to be the one to lead the pack to future glory. However, Llorente may decide his Basque loyalties lie with Athletic, which would indicate much more about his character than any future performances in the Premier League ever could. Whatever happens, Llorente and Dzeko’s futures will dominate the transfer rumour mills this summer.
With the way the mind of the average football fan operates, it would be no surprise if the players’ roles switched once more in twelve months time following Llorente’s stuttering debut Premier League campaign and Dzeko’s deadly return to the Bundesliga. After all, football is about living in the moment rather than examining the details of a player, manager or team’s progression over an extended period of time - isn’t it?
I am not sure Marcelo Bielsa would agree and he seems to be a good judge of character. For now anyway...
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