With Sadio Mane packed off to Bayern Munich, Johnny Nic takes the opportunity to gush over his replacement, Darwin Gabriel Nunez Ribeiro…
Who’s this then?
Darwin Gabriel Núñez Ribeiro will be 23 next week. Born in Artigas, Uruguay, he is a 6ft 2in striker who has just signed for Liverpool.
He got his start at Penarol in 2017 for whom he played 22 games, scoring four times. In 2019, scouts from Almería liked the cut of his jib and snaffled him for around four and a half million dollars. He spent just a single season in the Segunda Division. He was the league’s joint fourth top scorer with 16 goals. Former Boro striker Cristhian Stuani topped the list, incidentally.
He was very impressive, so much so that Benfica emptied their penny jar out, handed over €24million and took him to Portugal. He hit the ground running, making five assists in his first four games for the club. He scored 14 in 44 in the 2020-21 season but a mix of injuries and Covid led to him going four months without scoring.
However, last season he seemed to have adjusted to Portuguese football and although he missed the start of the season with a knee knack came roaring back with 26 goals in 28 league games, 34 in 41 games overall, including two strikes against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter final loss, 6-4 on aggregate.
He ended the season winning the Bola de Prata award as top scorer of the Primeira Liga. This wonderful campaign made alarms go off all over Europe. Here was a superb young striker at a club that always sells its best players.
Liverpool turned up, said they’d pay cash for him, no questions asked, handed over a dumpy bag full of 64 million quids-worth of tenners and promised another £21 million in add-ons if the lad turned out to be any good. Everyone nodded sagely and celebrated the move with a custard tart.
Why the love?
It isn’t hard to see why Jurgen Klopp thought that this was a perfect Liverpool player. He’s tall, powerful and fast. He can press high and hard. Although right-footed, he can play on either side of a front three or through the middle. The assumption is that, just like Luis Diaz, he will fit in perfectly. With Mo Salah, Diogo Jota and Robert Firmino already at the club, they have themselves a lot of formidable attacking players, even with Sadio Mane on his way to the Bundesliga.
Some have criticised the purchase on the basis that he’s only had one really good season. This overlooks his first season at Benfica which was also very good, albeit interrupted by injury and illness and his successful formative season in the Spanish second division. At 23 when he starts to play for the club, he’s young and, yes, something of a gamble, but that’s how you get a striker for £64million and not the £120 million he’d cost if he’s a well proven major goalscorer.
He has a very Uruguayan look about him, has a good scowl, high cheekbones and being broad and strong, he is plenty physical enough for the Premier League. Even though some pundits seem to think the league has a bizarre unknowable mythical quality which takes time to get used to. The sort of thinking that leads Dean Saunders to recently blart: “You don’t get any easy goals in the Premier League”. This is typical of this sort of mind-in-neutral nonsense, reflexively vaunting the league on a wholly fictional basis. It doesn’t stand even the slightest scrutiny. Watford and Norwich conceded 161 goals between them last season. Some of them must’ve been ‘easy’ no matter how you want to define easy.
Plenty of players arrive in the Premier League and hit the ground running, just as Luis Diaz did, and those that don’t are usually down to how the club is set up, much less the nature of the league, as plenty of Manchester United signings know all too well.
In the abandoned fairground that passes for some pundit minds, playing in Portugal is not playing in a top, top league, Jeff, therefore it will take him time to adjust to the rarified air of England’s top flight. Honestly, at times you’d think the goals were a different size, the pitches not made of 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 by a section of football’s punditocracy as being as uneducated as they are about any non-English football, simultaneously bleating about how the world watches the Premier League whilst 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 at you? If he runs into you it’d be like being hit by a Range Rover. He has an excellent change of pace, in that he can sprint, slow and then go again at pace to get past defenders. Although he’s scored 67 goals in 138 games since he made his debut in Uruguay, he’s also made 20 assists, 14 in Portugal and that will have been a big attraction for Klopp, as will the 10 headers he’s netted and last season’s 30.6% conversion rate. He seems so good in all respects, £64million upfront looks like a bargain.
He’s only ever had one red card, a second yellow in the Spanish second tier, so his temperament seems solid, though it has been suggested that he doesn’t like criticism, but who does? The fact he’s scored six in 10 Champions League games also suggests he’s not out of his depth in such company.
In short, there are very few negatives about this signing. He has been out for a total of 164 days through injury and missed 17 games since 2019-20. A couple of knee knacks suggest he may be a bit vulnerable in that department but that’s the only downside for this exciting player.
Three great moments
Those two goals against Liverpool which probably convinced Liverpool to sign him…
A top quality performance against Barcelona…
Turning Ajax inside out…
Signings like Nunez are what drives the appetite for the new season. He’s signed a six-year contract, by the end of it he will still be in his 20s and who knows, may already be a Liverpool legend. He could flop. Of course he could. In which case Liverpool won’t be dropping that extra £21million into Benfica’s pocket. But in recent years, they have not gotten many big transfers badly wrong. Even those that haven’t become first-team regulars have still been useful squad players. Their planning is so good at the moment and they have the excellent sense to recruit players from Scotland, which, if you’ve been paying 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 £4 million to develop him as their next superb right back and that is 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 that money. Andy Robertson can show him and the 16-year-old signing from Celtic, 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, the odds are in favour of him tearing it up in the Premier League and providing us with some sizzling performances and super goals. Welcome to the pleasure dome, Darwin, we look forward to seeing you evolve.