'Not made of stone' - Leeds United departure reveals reasons for transfer decision

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Diego Llorente says it was the 'beauty' of Real Betis' project that convinced him to reject interest from Roma and leave Leeds United for Spain.

The centre-half secured a permanent move this week, 18 months on from all-but ending his time at Elland Road with a loan move to Roma. He spent the second half of the 2021/22 campaign with the Serie A side and then Leeds' relegation to the Championship allowed him to return to Stadio Olimpico on a season-long loan. But though Llorente has told a press conference marking his unveiling as a Real Betis arrival that Roma were keen on finally making the arrangement permanent, he felt a return to Spain with Los Verdiblancos was the right option.

He said: “Thank [you to] both the president [Ángel Haro García] and Manu [Fajardo, sporting director] for the affection from the first minute and the interest they have shown in me because it’s not just about showing interest but through calls and explaining the beautiful project you have here, what the club is like, the passion of the green and white feeling. You are not made of stone and that kind of thing convinces the player. It was very clear to me that a club as big as Betis was the best place for me to continue my career, to keep growing and to help each other to achieve great things."

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Prior to his move from Real Sociedad to Elland Road in the summer of 2020, Llorente's fact finding extended to conversations with Pablo Hernandez, a former team-mate as loanees at Rayo Vallecano in 2015/16, who helped sell him the Leeds dream. This time round an ex-Leeds colleague was on hand to offer positive words to say about Real Betis. Marc Roca was only just through the door at Estadio Benito Villamarín in a permanent move of his own, before Llorente followed him from Elland Road.

“I’ve spoken to teammates like Marc Roca, Fornals, Juanmi, with whom I’ve coincided in other clubs and all the words were good, not only as a club but on a personal level for my family and for me, an unbeatable place to develop as a footballer and to give the best of myself," said Llorente. "That kind of thing also helped me to make the decision."

Llorente, 30, fell in and out of the national team picture with Spain during his time as a Leeds player but appeared to at least find a home with Roma during his loans. He played extensively under Jose Mouninho and though he did not start as regularly after Daniele De Rossi succeeded the ex-Chelsea boss, Llorente was still heavily involved in domestic and European action. But a third arrival in Italy's capital was not to be.

“On my return, I was informed about all the situations, about Betis,” he said. “There were other interests, also from the club where I was on loan, Roma, but the sum of all the factors that I’ve said that help on a personal and professional level, the illusion that they have transmitted to me has been key to making the decision and I can’t think of a better place to continue taking steps forward and to be able to be a better player.”

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