Premier League • England

Athletic Bilbao president puts Man Utd, Arsenal in their place over Nico Williams transfer, as tempting release clause confirmed

Spain winger Nico Williams

Spain winger Nico Williams

Manchester United and Arsenal may have suffered a blow in their bid to sign Athletic Bilbao ace Nico Williams – as reports of his bargain release clause are revealed.

The 21-year-old has been turning heads in recent seasons, off the back of his ever-improving performances for the La Liga outfit.

The pacey winger just enjoyed his best season to date, scoring eight goals and bagging a whopping 19 assists in all competitions.

That helped his side finish fifth in the Spanish top-flight and win the Copa de Rey, attracting interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona along the way.

While the former Basconia player is representing Spain at the Euros, with Luis de la Fuente’s team one of only two sides (including Germany) to have already reached the last 16 of the competition following two straight victories, speculation has mounted over his future.

Winger happy at Bilbao

The Spain international himself said he was very content at Bilbao, potentially dashing the chances of joining Erik Ten Hag’s United or Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.

Earlier this month, Williams told reporters last week: “I’m very happy at Athletic, it’s the club that has given me everything. It’s the club that has bet on me 100%. I’m very happy in Bilbao and that’s what I have to say.

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“Yes, I am quite clear about it. Athletic is my home, I am very happy, now what I want to do is focus on the Euros . If you are not 100% in a competition for this one, they will overtake you. As for the rest, I don’t know what will happen.”

While a player may be keen on staying, the club’s hierarchy have financial pressures to attend to. A player like Williams, whose contract at Bilbao runs until the summer of 2027, would secure the La Liga team a huge source of income.

But going by club president, Jon Uriarte, they have no desire to let the youngster leave after the Euros finishes – as he wants to build a team that can fight for titles and compete in Europe.

‘We’re happy with Nico’

He said this week: “We have impressive talent in the squad. When things are like this, it’s normal that there are players who arouse interest, but we’re not here to talk about rumours.

“Nico is happy in Bilbao and at Athletic and we’re very happy with Nico. We don’t worry about or pay attention to rumours. We’re focused on creating an attractive project for all our players, fighting for titles and competing in Europe.”

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Uriarte added: “The club has room for economic manoeuvre to sign players. We had to be able to ensure that the investment did not penalise the expenses.

“We had to balance the accounts and boost the income. That has been our way of acting. At the club we are always aware of what is on the market and identify opportunities.”

Release clause price tag revealed

This may not be the end of the matter, however. Every player has his price and even though he signed a new three-year deal in December, The Athletic claims his release clause remains ‘practically untouched’.

Their report states £47m may be enough to trigger that clause and off the back of his displays in the Euros and season for Bilbao, that may be something of a bargain for the electric wide man.

Incidentally, one of his many admirers is Spain boss De la Fuente. Along with 16-year-old winger Lamine Yamal, he described the young duo as “gifts from god”.

He told reporters last week: “They are young players, especially Lamine, he’s a young boy, with incredible talent that only the chosen ones have. They have a gift from god, very few players have these qualities.”

Williams is reportedly on hefty wages and may yet stay at the Spanish team. But how long Bilbao will be able to hold onto this “gift” remains to be seen.