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El Centrocampista

Transfer talk intensifies as Bielsa tries to keep his stars in Bilbao

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There is a feeling in Spain that Athletic Club of Bilbao are currently on the verge of entering a ‘golden generation’ at the club and, on the back of a campaign that saw Marcelo Bielsa’s side reach two cup finals, the Basque giants have most certainly put their name on the map of European football.

The clubs most successful season in 30 years has not only drawn attention to Basque football as a whole, but Athletic’s young and promising crown jewels especially. Most of the prominent players have yet to enter the prime of their careers yet have already caught the eye of some of Europe’s biggest names.

Combined with Athletic’s unique selection policy, it will surely make for an interesting transfer window at San Mames, as Los Leones begin preparations for a new season in the Spanish top flight.

Moving Out?

Javi Martinez

A rock at the back and skilled enough to play both holding midfielder and centre back, Martinez is a prized commodity in football, and clubs have been tracking his services all year.

Valued at over €35 million, the 23-year old has been scouted by both Manchester clubs and even Barcelona. However, recent reports suggest that he had agreed to personal terms with Bayern Munich, who were said to be  willing to meet Martinez’s buyout clause. The player’s agent has denied any confirmation of a deal; we will probably have to wait until the conclusion of the Olympic games to get a better idea of this situation.

His versatility, age, and skill set make him an outstanding player and long-term anchor for any club’s defensive spine.

Fernando Llorente

El Rey Leon is coming off his finest season to date, scoring 29 goals over Athletic’s grueling season. Arguably one of Europe’s most lethal target men, he has been highly-coveted in England for his size and strength (and knack for scoring, of course), as both Arsenal and Manchester City have inquired about him.

Llorente, 27, had joined his teammate Martinez on Spain’s Euro 2012 squad but failed to see any playing time, much to his chagrin. Now that the tournament has concluded, he must clarify his status with Athletic. Any club looking to pry him away from Bilbao will probably have to fork over more than €30 million.

Iker Muniain

The teenage pint-sized winger had an impressive season last term, chalking up 10 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. Muniain has earned the watchful eye of both Liverpool and Manchester United; United reportedly becoming interested after Muniain played a tremendous role in Athletic’s Europa League destruction of the English giants.

Muniain will try to increase his value as he plays for Spain in this summer’s Olympics and Jesus Medina, his agent, was quoted in April as saying: “Whoever wants him must pay his buyout clause at €36 million.”

It is a high price tag for someone who isn’t yet 20-years-old, however with a player of Muniain’s ability, it could potentially be a great deal.

Oscar de Marcos

The 23-year-old De Marcos is simply a do-it-all dynamo; capable of playing anywhere except centre-back and striker, he has arguably benefited more from Bielsa’s system than anyone else at the club. An impressive showing against Manchester United in the Europa League garnered the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson, who must contemplate whether to pay the release clause of about €32 million for De Marcos.

The versatility and ball skills of De Marcos (he scored in both games against United) make him an attractive target.

Coming In?

Aritz Aduriz

The 31-year old agreed personal terms with Athletic and has made the move from Valencia for €2.5 million. A former Bilbao Athletic player, Aduriz has plied his trade for Mallorca and Valencia since 2008, contributing double digits in goals every year bar the 2011-12 season, when he scored nine.

Aduriz is an outstanding header of the ball and could play the role of super sub, considering Bielsa’s preference to play only one striker. He supplies great experience and there are not too many more quality Basque forwards available for the club.

Beñat

After growing up in Athletic’s famed Lezama youth academy, Beñat’s senior career for at the club consisted of just one appearance. After fighting through the Spanish lower tiers, he has finally led Real Betis back to the Primera Division and has become a much sought-after playmaker in La Liga.

Wearing the number 10 shirt for Betis, Beñat has evolved into a fantastic player, additionally possessing some of the best dead-ball skills in Spain. His technical skills would make him a great fit in Bielsa’s squad and the first-choice free kick taker. Having earned his first Spanish cap in May, the 25-year-old has begun to earn recognition across the country, and his accolades may justify a price tag of over €8 million.

Iñigo Martinez

No transfer window would be complete without speculation of Athletic trying to pry away a player from Real Sociedad, and this summer is really no different.

Martinez is a 21-year-old center back who gained widespread fame for his two long-range goals from midfield last season – one of them against la Real at the Anoeta. He was named in the preliminary Olympic squad for this summer’s games and has drawn comparisons to Carles Puyol. Considering the bad blood between the two clubs and the player’s potential, Sociedad would probably not sell Martinez for less than €20 million.




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