The television cameras increasingly looked to the Juventus bench as matters remained deadlocked between Juventus and Milan with the second half well underway. There on the sideline, Fernando Llorente and Sebastian Giovinco were seen warming up. Antonio Conte was readying to make a change. Against a Milan side that had conceded the most headed goals in the Serie A, the 1.95-metre tall Spain international seemed the logical choice.
But, just as he did against FC Copenhagen, Conte opted for the 1.64-metre Sebastian Giovinco instead. And it proved a master-stroke. Just two minutes had elapsed when the Atomic Ant checked past Cristian Zapata and put his side in the lead. Llorente would later be introduced, but, it was just a short five-minute cameo. Still, it was better than sitting out the entirety of the game, as has occurred often this season for the 28-year-old.
In total, Llorente has been an unused substitute five times this campaign. Three times he has been brought on from the bench. His lone starting role came against Hellas Verona, where he scored the winner. The Spaniard was later praised by his manager who said his match-winning display was a boon for his confidence. But, it hardly proved a watershed moment for Llorente.
Rather, in recent games he has dropped back to the bench, again reduced to cameo roles here and there, if even that.
Llorente has remained calm so far: “I am relaxed…I have gone almost a year without hardly playing and Italy is different to Spain, but, I am not worried. I know I must improve.” Yet, with the World Cup just eight months away and with the winter transfer market looming, one wonders whether the member of 2010’s successful squad is pondering a move elsewhere. After all, he most certainly would be eyeing a spot with La Roja come Brazil.
For this to happen though, Llorente has to play. It is as simple as that. But, his situation at Juve is complicated. Conte seems reluctant to use the former Athletic Bilbao player. The tactician has often spoken of the need for Llorente to regain his ‘intensity, sharpness and full fitness’ and that he will not simply play him ‘to keep the media happy’.
Yet, one wonders what better way is there to regain full match fitness than to actually play and play regularly. Llorente will know this and for this reason he could well be assessing his options.
Del Bosque himself might like to see him move on in order to get playing time. Speaking earlier this year, the 62-year-old said: “I want him to do really well when he joins Juventus because I consider him to be a fundamental player for our journey.” ‘Fundamental’ is hardly the word to describe Llorente’s current role within the national team. After all, he has played just 45 minutes in the last two years with his last goal coming against Argentina in September of 2010.
Unless Llorente’s fortunes take a turn for the better in the coming months, it will come as little surprise to see the lanky hit-man depart Turin in January. Indeed, it will perhaps be the best thing for him. With Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid among a host of clubs apparently interested, he will definitely not be short of potential suitors either.