With Sadio Mane leaving for Bayern Munich, Johnny Nic is taking the opportunity to challenge his replacement, Darwin Gabriel Nunez Ribeiro…
Who is this then?
Darwin Gabriel Núñez Ribeiro turns 23 next week. Born in Artigas, Uruguay, he is a 6ft 2in striker who has just signed for Liverpool†
He started at Penarol in 2017, for whom he played 22 games and scored four times. In 2019, scouts from Almería gave birth to the cut of his breeding stock, catching him for about four and a half million dollars. He spent only one season in the Segunda Division. He was the league’s joint fourth top goalscorer with 16 goals. Former Boro striker Cristhian Stuani led the list.
He was very impressive, so much so that Benfica emptied their penny pot, handed over 24 million euros and took him to Portugal. He got off to a flying start, providing five assists in his first four appearances for the club. He scored 14 in 44 in the 2020-21 season, but a mix of injuries and Covid kept him out of scoring for four months.
However, last season he seemed to have adapted to Portuguese football and although he missed the start of the season with a knee injury, he came back roaring with 26 goals in 28 league games, 34 in 41 games in total, including two goals against Liverpool in the Champions League. League quarter-final loss, 6-4 on aggregate.
He finished the season by winning the Bola de Prata prize as the top scorer of the Primeira Liga. This wonderful campaign raised alarms across Europe. Here was a great young striker at a club that always sells its best players.
Liverpool showed up, said they would pay him in cash, no questions asked, handed over a dumpy bag full of £64million in tens and promised a further £21million if the boy turned out well. Everyone nodded wisely and celebrated the move with a custard pie.
Why the love?
It’s not hard to see why Jurgen Klopp thought this was a perfect Liverpool player. He is tall, powerful and fast. He can press high and hard. Although he is right-footed, he can play either side of a front three or down the middle. The assumption is that, like Luis Diaz, he will fit perfectly. With Mo Salah, Diogo Jota and Robert Firmino already at the club, they have many formidable attacking players of their own, even with Sadio Mane on his way to the Bundesliga†
Some have criticized the purchase for having only had one really good season. This overlooks his first season with Benfica, which was also very good, albeit interrupted by injury and illness, and his successful early season in the Spanish second division. If he’s 23 when he starts playing for the club he’s young and, yes, a bit of a gamble but that’s how you get a striker for £64m and not the £120m he would cost if he were a proven top scorer is.
He has a very Uruguayan look, a good frown, high cheekbones and being wide and strong, he is physically fit for the Premier League. Even though some pundits seem to think the competition has a bizarre, unknowable mythical quality that takes some getting used to. The kind of thinking that leads Dean Saunders to bark recently: “You don’t make easy goals in the Premier League”. This is typical of this kind of ghost-in-neutral nonsense, reflexively showing off the competition on a completely fictional basis. It does not withstand even the slightest scrutiny. Watford and Norwich conceded 161 goals last season. Some of them must have been “easy,” however you define “easy.”
Many players come to the Premier League and get started, just like Luis Diaz did, and those who don’t usually have to do with how the club is set up, let alone the nature of the competition, such as many Manchester United signings know it all too well.
In the desolate fairground that some connoisseurs pass on, playing in Portugal is not playing in a top class, Jeff, so it will take him time to adjust to the thin air of England’s top flight. Frankly, you would sometimes think that the goals were different sizes, the pitches not grass and the ball a different shape in England and that foreigners don’t understand how different it is here. Too often, non-British players are treated as uneducated as about non-English football by part of the football punditocracy, while at the same time bleating about how the world views the Premier League while claiming the world knows nothing about the Premier League.
Nunez’s speed will be crucial to how he performs. Can you imagine how scary it must be to have a man of his size sprinting towards you? When he meets you, it’s like being hit by a Range Rover. He has an excellent change of pace in that he can sprint, slow down and then pick up pace again to get past defenders. While he has scored 67 goals in 138 games since he made his Uruguay debut, he has also provided 20 assists, 14 in Portugal and that will have been a big draw for Klopp, as are the 10 headers he has scored and his success rate. last season of 30.6%. † He seems so good in every way, £64m upfront seems like a steal.
He’s only had one red card, a second yellow in the Spanish second division, so his temperament seems solid, although it’s been suggested he doesn’t like criticism, but who does? The fact that he has scored six in ten Champions League games also suggests that he is not out of his depth in such company.
In short, there are few negatives to this signature. He has been out for a total of 164 days with injury, missing 17 games since 2019-20. A few knee problems suggest he might be a little vulnerable in that area, but that’s the only downside for this exciting player.
Three great moments
Those two goals against Liverpool that probably convinced Liverpool to sign him…
A top performance against Barcelona…
Turning Ajax inside out…
Signups like Nunez are what drives the appetite for the new season. He has signed a six-year contract, at the end of which he will still be in his twenties and who knows, he may already be a Liverpool legend. He could flop. Of course he could. In that case, Liverpool will not be pocketing the extra £21million in Benfica. But in recent years they haven’t mishandled many big transfers. Even those who have not become regular first team players are still useful squad players. Their planning is so good at the moment and they have an excellent sense of recruiting players from Scotland which, if you pay attention, as I’ve said for many years, is a huge, largely untapped resource for players.
Liverpool have signed 18-year-old Calvin Ramsey from Aberdeen for £4million to develop him as their next great right-back and that’s a smooth move. Ramsay is of course an attacking, progressive right-back, was voted Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year and is a steal for the money. Andy Robertson can show him and 16-year-old Celtic signing Ben Doak where to buy the best square sausage on Merseyside. Are other clubs even looking at Scotland?
Nunez has signed for the right club, the right team and the right manager. While anything is possible, there’s a good chance he’ll tear it apart in the Premier League and give us some smashing performances and super goals. Welcome to the pleasure dome, Darwin, we look forward to seeing you evolve.
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