How times had changed. When del Bosque sent Llorente on against Portugal at the World Cup, few could believe that either. Mostly, they were calling for
If Del Bosque wanted a striker, they said, he'd be better off going for
It was no mistake.
It was true that Llorente was struggling, but the raw material was there. He was fast and skilful, strong in the air and an instinctive finisher. He just needed to apply himself. Quite literally. Llorente is big and tall -- 1 m 93 cm (6-foot-3) and 91 kilos (200 pounds) -- but he appeared not to know it. He did not seem to realize just how much he could impose himself on games if only he would impose himself on opponents. For a giant he was rather gentle. Timid and instantly likeable off the pitch, he wasn't mean enough on it. He had even admitted so himself: "I don't always believe in myself; there are days when I'm apathetic."
Del Bosque, though, could see the improvements in his game and the chance to improve him still further. The call up itself clearly helped, giving Llorente confidence. But the work was already being done on him, especially by Athletic Bilbao's notoriously tough coach
And -- again by Llorente's own admission -- the change came. "He is learning to use his strength and his body better," said the former Athletic striker
With Spain it did not take him long to prove he could be useful. A goal against England in only his second match was followed by a World Cup call up. And yet, despite an excellent second half to last season (which he finished with 14 goals), his inclusion was one of the few decisions Del Bosque made that some were not sure about. After all, he had only made five, mostly brief, appearances for Spain. Then again, what did it matter? He was a squad member, unlikely to play.
Llorente did not play much at the World Cup but he did play a key role. He came on against Portugal and, although he didn't score, he did change the game, causing the center backs problems, bringing others into the play, pushing the opposition back, right into their own six-yard box. His suitability for Spain was confirmed. He offered something different to the rest of the side; he was a giant amongst very small men. He was an alternative. But he was more than that, too. He was, at last, respected.
After the World Cup, Llorente scored Spain's only goal in a friendly defeat in Argentina. In the next game, when he scored two in a 3-0 win against Lithuania, he shifted from alternative to many people's first choice.
For Spain, Llorente offered something different. Of his six goals for Spain, four had been with his head. In total, he had had 18 attempts on goal as a Spain player; 14 of them with his head. Yet that did not mean he was some great big donkey to lump the ball up to. He could play tiki-taka too. He was perfect for the Scotland game: not only did he have the talent but he had the physique to face the Scots -- expected to defend deep and play a direct, aggressive game. He was bound to play. he had to play.
Del Bosque did not agree. Surprisingly, he left Llorente out of the starting XI. Spain took a 2-0 lead and were cruising; they had tiki-taka'd their way past the Scots, who barely saw the ball. Suddenly, though, Scotland grabbed two goals. In the blink of the eye it was 2-2. Spain had to get their lead back. Spain had to try something else. And so Del Bosque turned to Llorente. Two minutes later, he volleyed in a cross to make it 3-2. It was his first touch of the game. It was his third goal in four days. It was probably a few extra zeros on his transfer fee.
When it came to Llorente, many thought that Del Bosque was wrong. He wasn't. Well, not in November 2008 anyway. Or May 2010. Or in June 2010. In Scotland in October 2010, on the other hand, for the first time he might just have been. Once upon a time including Llorente in the Spain team seemed a risky decision; these days leaving him out is even worse.