Ernesto Valverde 'tells Athletic Club he is leaving' as he closes on Barcelona job

The 53-year-old coach has also been linked with Arsenal

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The Independent Football

Ernesto Valverde has reportedly told Athletic Club he will be leaving at the end of the season, opening the door for him to take over at FC Barcelona.

The 53-year-old has been considered the front-runner to take the Nou Camp vacancy ever since the shock March announcement that Luis Enrique would be taking a sabbatical and walking away from Barca.

Luis Enrique's assistant, Juan Carlos Unzue, is considered the only other realistic option but Valverde has, according to Barcelona-based daily Mundo Deportivo, made the first move by informing Athletic he will leave Bilbao when his contract expires at the end of June. 

By leaving the San Mames, Valverde has made it clear that he feels ready to step up and take a job with a Champions League club. 

Sevilla are also understood to have an interest in talking to him should Jorge Sampaoli, as expected, leave the Andalucians to take over the Argentina national team.

While it remains an unusual move from Sampaoli to turn his back on club football and return to the international game, it opens up another prime job and that could be the leverage Valverde needs to force Barcelona into a move.

Reports recently that Arsenal had contacted the Athletic Club boss over his availability could well be true, as the Gunners are understood to be sounding out back-up options should Arsene Wenger's side truly collapse at the end of this season. 

But realistically there is a minute chance that Valverde will move to north London. His eyes are on Barcelona, their eyes are on him. Valverde has made his move, now it's a case of who blinks first, or if Barca shift their gaze elsewhere.