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Juventus interested in Didier Drogba? That’s news to Antonio Conte

Jan 5, 2013, 9:32 AM EDT

Ivorian soccer player Didier Drogba who plays for Shanghai Shenhua in China attends the African soccer player awards ceremony in Accra Reuters

This rumor’s been around since the end of the Chinese Super League season: Didier Drogba, having finished his first season with Shanghai Shenhua, is looking to come back to Europe, with Italian champions Juventus being prominently linked.

Let’s wait a second before detailing the various levels on which that’s problematic. For now, what’s important is Juventus’s lack of interest, per reports (this one from ESPN).

Here’s head coach Antonio Conte with a well-articulated scoff at the persisting rumors:

“I keep reading about Drogba, but the club never proposed him to me or vice-versa. There are economic parameters to be taken into account. Transfers must be intelligent and low-cost.”

In China, Drogba is one of the highest paid players in the world, and while it’s no guarantee he’ll demand in same compensation on a return to Europe (be that return temporary or permanent semi-temporary), he’s still going to be expensive. If there’s any team in Italy that can afford that type of player, it’s Juventus, but as Conte says, that doesn’t mean the deal makes sense.

With eight goals in 11 appearances, Drogba was effective in China, but at 34 years old and slightly removed from his last days at Chelsea, there could be some concern about his ability to play to previous levels. It’s a concern I’d dismiss under most circumstances, but if one of those circumstances entails paying Drogba has if he’s among the best attackers in Europe, that would require me being 100 percent certain he’d be an elite player for the deal to work out. And that level of certainty’s near-impossible to reach.

There’s also the little issue of Drogba being under contract with Shanghai Shenhua. It’s no guarantee he’ll be allowed to move, given the CSL’s March re-start. Regardless, his contract status will only add to the cost.

For some clubs, Drogba will still make sense, but as Conte discusses, Juventus might have other options. Though Drogba would fill the Old Lady’s last glaring need, Italy’s holders could look west instead of east, with Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente in focus:

 “Llorente is a Spanish international and has done very well at Bilbao, so he is an appetising prospect. If we have the chance to sign a big player on a free transfer and he chooses us, then good.

“I can certainly say that, a year ago, Llorente wouldn’t have taken us into consideration, but we are back to a high level and are now very appealing to big players.”

Asked if he would be surprised to see Llorente arrive this month, Conte replied: “Yes, because he is an Athletic Bilbao player.”

Of course, in talking about Llorente coming on a free transfer, Conte’s implicitly casting this deal as a summer move, one which would happen after the Athletic target man’s contract expires after the season. The threat of pre-contract agreement might compel Athletic to sell this winter, but for the deflated price they’d get for a player at the end of a deal, it might not be worth it.

All of which brings us back to the question underlying all these rumors: What’s Juventus going to to about their forward situation? Right now, Conte’s relying on Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri. While there’s talent in the group, there haven’t been many goals: 18 in 52 appearances.

If there’s no Drogba or Llorente in January, then who? Perhaps the answer is “nobody,” a response that will draw the ire of Juve fans expecting the team to make a Champions League run.

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