Liverpool have reached an agreement with Benfica to acquire their star striker Darwin Nunez for an initial fee of €80 million. The five-year contract also comes up with an add-on bonus of another €20 million, which depends on Nunez’s performance at his new club.
Nunez has been one of the most sought-after names in this transfer window, and has previously been linked to clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United. While his price tag was anticipated to soar up after he topped the goal-scoring charts in the Primeira Liga 2022, a fee of €100 million is still a lot of money for a 22-year-old striker who has just had his breakthrough season in Europe’s sixth-best football league.
What’s even more bizarre is that Liverpool — a club known for unearthing value in the market instead of chasing big names — decided to splash that much amount on Nunez. The club played every possible game this season, but rounded off their stellar season without two of the biggest trophies: Premier League and Champions League. In the Premier League, they did all they could but still fell a point short of the eventual champion — Manchester City. You can only curse your luck if you fail to win the league despite amassing 92 points from 38 games. It all came down to terrible finishing from their front three in the heart-breaking UCL defeat to Real Madrid.
Practically, there’s not much scope for improvement. Liverpool is still the most coherent, most threatening team in Europe, and expect them to come with the same force and relentlessness next season, with or without any big signings.
But when your main competitor is a club built on the never-ending supply of cash from the oil reserves, you need to step up and deviate a bit from the time-honored tradition of picking obscure stars from the obscure leagues.
Is Darwin Nunez worth €100 million?
In the hyper-inflated transfer market, it’s tough to find the logic behind the price tag. There’s no algorithm to determine whether a €100 million striker is really worth that much. Much of it is subjective but with a work history of only one season, the €100 million mark does feel like a bit of stretch.
But if Liverpool has done that, there must be some solid reason. Twice in the FSG era, they went beyond the limits in the transfer window, and both signings — Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker — have worked out quite well for them. Can Nunez keep this streak going?
The 22-year-old is a versatile striker, and can thrive in different roles. He started his career at Benfica primarily as a centre-forward, but this season the club has also employed him on the left wing and also as an attacking midfielder. Irrespective of his assigned position, he regularly drifts onto the left flank, and regularly cuts in to strike from his right foot. If there’s no position to cut back, he takes a straight route and attempts a cross from his left foot.
Nunez also had a great campaign in the Champions League, where he scored twice against Barcelona, a crucial goal against Ajaz Amsterdam, and also scored in both legs against Liverpool in the quarter-final. Klopp was also impressed with Nunez’s performance, and said: “An extremely good-looking boy, eh? He is a really good boy. He played in front of me battling against [Ibrahima] Konate. He was calm for the finish. He is good, really good. If he stays healthy, he has a big career ahead of him”.
How Will Liverpool Accommodate Nunez?
It would be interesting to watch how Jurgen Klopp utilises him at Liverpool. The Uruguayan forward has flourished under an entirely different system at Porto, where he rarely pressed the first line of defense in the build-up. But in Klopp’s system, this is non-negotiable. The high-intensity football that Liverpool plays under his stewardship is impossible to achieve without the striker’s counter-pressing in areas high up the pitch. This is going to be the first and major challenge for Nunez, who, up till this point, has played a very free-flowing role at Porto.
Secondly, Nunez’s holding ability needs massive improvement. When sandwiched between two wingers, he needs to drop deep, attract defenders, and create space for his fellow strikers. Nunez seems to lose possession very easily in such scenarios. Improving his ball-retention in high-pressing situations will be the key to unlocking counter-attacking options against a team that plays low-block.
Against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, Liverpool’s tactic of attacking the crosses didn’t work simply because their forwards were up against more physical opponents. Darwin Nunez, standing 6’3”, will provide an aerial threat in the attacking scenario that neither of their current forward provides. Luis Diaz struggled in a one-on-one situation against the brawny presence of Dani Carvajal. This is where Nunez’s brawny physique will come in handy for Liverpool.
Virgil van Dijk ranked Nunez among one of the most difficult strikers to defend, and also compared him to Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
“I’ve played against Sergio Aguero, who was obviously unbelievable. (Lionel) Messi, arguably the best player in the history of football, in my opinion. Mbappe is different, quick… Haaland, also Darwin (Nunez). He’s a bit similar, very direct and quick, tall and strong. It’s quite difficult to play against those guys,” said Virgil van Dijk.
Featured Image Credit: Benfica