An extension of Diego Llorente

Written by: Moxcowhite • Daniel Chapman
Photograph by: Lee Brown
Diego Llorente, his face like we all felt about this game

Maybe Leeds United just got giddy from the widespread arrring and y’arrrring when they announced Big Sexy Pirate Pascal Struijk’s new contract, and thought heck, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, why not a new contract for his First Mate Diego Llorente, too? That put the crocodile on the poop deck alright, one sword too many in the Pop Up Pirate’s barrel. Llorente? New contract? Why?

It’s a fair question. Footballers are usually given new contracts for one or more of a few well-defined reasons. The most popular are a younger player’s performances earning a high wage and a longer term, which can also be viewed from the perspective of a club gripped with fear that its new star will be poached by some behemoth team; or a player without much time left on his deal arranging a longer stay.

Neither of those applied to Llorente. He’s 29, and his current contract wasn’t expiring until summer 2024. And his performances? It’s hard to argue in his favour, but let’s at least try. In the first five Premier League games of this season Leeds conceded five, from an expected total of 6.4, Llorente forming a decent partnership, at last, with Robin Koch. In seven of the last eight — without Llorente starting — Leeds have given up fourteen, from an expected 10.6. The averages have gone from 1 goal conceded per game / 1.28 expected with Llorente, to 2 goals conceded per game / 1.51 expected without him. Which suggests we should get him back in the team straight away. What I’ve left out of all that, of course, is the game away to Brentford, when every soccer statistician quivered in fear while Llorente booted the ball, metaphorically, through their spreadsheets and into his own net. Five times. With gusto.

We got the roulette wheel Llorente again in last week’s friendly against Monaco, and his devotion to eccentricity is the undermining doom his reputation will never outgrow. Dispassionately, his presence at Leeds makes sense: an experienced Spanish international defender capable of sustaining good form and improving our goals against column, for which benefit we pay the price of his spells of delirium. He ought to be an asset to a club in the lower half of the Premier League, about as good as you’re gonna get round here. But this level of the Premier League is marked by thirst for renewal and improvement, making it hard to want to sign that player twice, or come up with a rationale now we have.

The explanation for Llorente’s new contract, then, must lie beyond the usual ones, somewhere off the obvious matrix of rewarding good performances or protecting his registration. All we know is that Llorente ‘penned a three-and-a-half-year extension’ last week, but the terms and conditions in those papers aren’t divulged. Instead, we hunt for clues. Llorente recently played his 50th game for Leeds. He also recently didn’t get into Spain’s World Cup squad. Either of those could represent the type of thing a wise agent would have included in the original contract as triggers for bonuses. Other clauses might no longer be representative of Leeds United Football Club’s dimmed horizons post-2021. It was reported last season that Leeds were trying to tempt clubs to transfer players with payments based on European qualification, and Llorente might have had delirious references to those heady ambitions written into his future pay. In other words, and I’m entirely speculating here, this contract extension may be less a reward, more a rewrite reflecting reality, turning promised Champions League bonuses into more definite years of pay, say, or fulfilling some fifty-match obligation while hoping that the next fifty include more consistency.

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What’s most important to remember is that contracts in football are essentially meaningless so extending Llorente’s has not changed anything in any significant way. He continues to be available for selection for Leeds United’s matches. He continues to be available for transfer if another club wants him enough to make an acceptable offer. He still retains rights to a certain sum of money payable over the length of his contract as wages, just as before. Whether that contract ends in 2024 or 2026, whether the money is a bit more or less than it was, doesn’t make much difference. If things go well with Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, Charlie Cresswell and Leo Hjelde, he won’t even play. He’ll be training and here if needed and leave when he and we’ve had enough.

Any of this only becomes a problem when we’re told about it. An employee renegotiating their terms isn’t normally something that would grab public attention, but this is football in the social media age, where every minor event gets viewed as an opportunity for increasingly meaningless engagement. So Leeds United’s website not only carries the news of the new contract, but then a written interview, then a gallery of photos, then a video interview, and it’s all posted out to social media platforms and joined by posts from Llorente and his agents and the tag-along accounts, and all the views and interactions are totted up and noted down and put into an end of year report that only looks at the number of people who ‘engaged’ with posts about Llorente’s new deal and not the degree to which those people were calling him a terrible prick who should fuck off. All this urgent posting and content-farming is merely for the useless end of telling the news to precisely the people who least want to hear it.

If a player extends his contract but doesn’t do a video, does he get a pay rise? If a club renegotiates a contract but doesn’t tweet a photo, is it legally binding? If Diego Llorente falls over in the woods and nobody is there to call him an idiot, do Leeds concede a goal? All of these mysteries, and more, remain untested at time of writing.

We have tested Diego Llorente, and he has tested our patience, and if he’s not great well he could be worse, and if he’s not terrible well he could be better. And long term, new contract or not, he’s going to be at Leeds exactly as long as he will be at Leeds, representing what the club is until the club has a clearer idea of what it’s going to become, for better or worse. And then he’ll walk the plank, like they all do. ⬢



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