Athletic Club Bilbao centre-back Aymeric Laporte has reopened speculation linking him with a summer move to Barcelona after admitting the Catalan outfit "are the best club in the world". The Frenchman, who is also reportedly on the radar of Manchester United, said there has not been any contact between him and the Nou Camp side yet, but suggested he would be willing to listen if the La Liga leaders are interested in his services.
The 21-year-old defender has been linked with a move away from San Mames in recent seasons, being seen as one of the most promising central defenders around. The likes of Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City are all linked with monitoring the player. Athletic Bilbao slapped a €50m (£38.7m, $55.5m) release clause in his contract over the summer to ward off interest from bigger clubs.
The Manchester Evening News recently claimed he is on a list of possible targets, along with Everton's John Stones and Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, for the Red Devils in the summer window. The Premier League giants' chances of securing Laporte's services appeared to received a boost in early February when he was quoted as saying he would reject a move to Barcelona.
"They're one of the best clubs in the world but you can refuse them. The club haven't contacted me, neither last year, nor the year before that. I have a path to take. It involves spending years here in Bilbao." he allegedly said in an interview with French TV programme Telefoot.
Laporte, however, quickly denied those quotes, saying to AS: "I have not received any offer from Barcelona and at no time did I make the statements that have been published by a number of media outlets."
Mundo Deportivo later wrote that the player's agent had contacted Barcelona technical secretary Robert Fernandez to insist his client's quotes were mistranslated.
Laporte himself has now sent out the signal to Barcelona, admitting that they are the best team in the world in an interview with Football365.
Asked whether he has been in contact with Barcelona, Laporte replied: "This rumour [seems to] come back after every mercato. The last rumour, it was even with PSG. Newspapers insist, but nothing is true. Regarding potential contact with Barcelona, you have to ask about that with my club because I am under contract. Bilbao have never spoken to me about any interest from Barcelona.
But questioned whether it would be a dream to play for Barca, he said: "For the moment, I am with Athletic, and I am concentrating on my season.
"We are achieving good results. Barcelona are the best team in the world but for the moment, there is nothing concrete and no one has called me directly yet. I am steady and waiting patiently."
Barcelona have reportedly identified the signing of a centre-back as the top priority for the summer transfer window, with Paris Saint-Germain's Thiago Silva recently revealing that the Catalans are interested in his teammate Marquinhos.