Sevilla’s Fernando Llorente is ready to play first club Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League but admits it will be ‘strange.’
The sides meet in the competition’s quarter-finals and Llorente, who played eight years at San Mames and lived in the Basque Country for almost two decades, says his only concern is winning with his current club.
“It was a surprise having to face the club where I started playing but it will be nice,” he told an interview with UEFA’s official site.
“It will be strange as well, though, because I spent 17 wonderful years of my life in Bilbao. I am proud to have come through a big club like Athletic. It was always an honour to play for them.
“Now it is my turn to play against them, and I will give everything for the Sevilla shirt. It will certainly be a very hard match. They have a great team and they've been playing really well in the last year.”
Sevilla have won the Europa League in each of the last two seasons while Llorente reached the final with Athletic in 2012, losing to Atletico Madrid, and considered both that game and Sevilla’s tournament pedigree.
“[2011-12 with Athletic] was a great season. I still remember the matches against Manchester United, Schalke and Sporting,” he recalled.
“But our performance in the final was poor. It was a pity, because you get there very excited and in the end the day turns into a huge disappointment.
“We had no experience in matches like that, whereas Atletico did everything right that day. [Radamel] Falcao scored a great goal and from then on they dominated.
“There were so many fans there and we wanted to make them happy and lift the trophy for them, but it was not possible.
“The first few months [at Sevilla] were not easy, because I had some fitness problems and I still don't feel 100%. But I have improved, I feel better now and I feel I'm playing an important role in the team.
“Unai Emery was the one who wanted me. It was the best thing to join a great side like Sevilla, a club capable of winning four Europa Leagues.
“I hope we can get that far again, I hope to enjoy something as special as winning the Europa League.
“Sevilla have a real desire to win this competition. It would be unique and quite incredible, because I don't think any team have done it three years in a row.
“I'm really enjoying this competition – it brings back wonderful memories of my Athletic days – as are my teammates who have had such success in the Europa League.
“I really want it. Both the Europa League and the Champions League finals [with Juventus, lost to Barcelona] were good experiences but had a bad outcome.
“It's like a thorn in your side that you want to remove but you never know when you might have the chance. I hope it happens this season.”