Darwin Nunez Faces Major Hurdle at Liverpool as £21m Payment Raises Concerns
In this week’s Blood Red column, Paul Gorst evaluates what’s next for Darwin Nunez, who celebrates his one-year anniversary as a Liverpool player this week.
Darwin Nunez encapsulates modern football consumption better than any other player in recent memory. Not in Liverpool, at any rate.
“Resiliencia,” he tweeted after coming off the bench to score four goals against RB Leipzig in a pre-season friendly. The remark, which translates to’resilience’ in English, was issued following an outstanding second-half performance that came just days after he had become the brunt of opposition fans’ taunts following a lackluster performance in a defeat to Manchester United in Thailand.
The post was perceived at the time as a direct rebuttal to those who had hurried to piece together the unfavorable videos of Nunez in the loss to the Red Devils 11 months prior.
“That’s obviously the best way to stop all these discussions,” Klopp stated after the No.27’s four-goal haul in a 5-0 triumph. “We always think that if you pay a lot of money, the players don’t feel any pressure or anything.” They are all absolutely normal people, and the first touch is suddenly not great. This generation of players reads social media, which is stupid, but they do it. You suddenly get in a hurry and these types of things.”
Nunez’s first year at Anfield was encapsulated in many ways by his early days as a Liverpool player. On the one hand, people who support him consider him as a striker with exceptional abilities. The raw, scorching pace; the confidence and ability to execute difficult shots with either foot; the audacity with which he finishes some of his shots.
There are also objectives to consider. Fifteen in all for his debut season in English football, with some coming in crucial games against Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Arsenal.
Those looking to discredit the Uruguay international will point to his sloppy touches, rushed, erroneous shooting, and whatever that badly executed sort-of-chip-finish was against Manchester City in October, when Mohamed Salah was screaming for a tap-in to make it 2-0 late on.
The shades of grey are more impenetrable than ever in the age of social media. Every issue in football has battle lines established, and whomever cries the loudest appears to win. Nuanced, rational debate is dead.
And, given that Nunez might become the most expensive player in Liverpool history if the £21 million in add-ons are unlocked, the striker was always going to be weaponised by both sides of a deeply rooted issue.
But, as Nunez marks his one-year anniversary with Liverpool this week, should the conclusion be that the former Benfica striker is somewhere in the huge, expansive middle ground between being an extraordinary force of nature and a clunky, expensive write-off?
Three elements may be working against Nunez as he prepares for his second preseason with the Reds. The first difference between him and the players that have come before him at Anfield is his playing style.
If Nunez is the battering ram, Klopp loves his forwards to be the locksmith when it comes to breaking through defenses. That, however, is likely to be the least of the problems in the future.
Nunez’s strengths make him a one-of-a-kind option in Klopp’s five-man frontline for next season, and a horses-for-courses approach will be required throughout a long campaign that will see Liverpool attempting to reclaim their Champions League status while also attempting to win the Europa League they did not want to be in.
The smooth engine that is Cody Gakpo, on the other hand, is a more trusted operator at the top of the three-pronged assault than Nunez at the moment, as proven by the fact that the Netherlands international started nine of the last 12 Premier League games last season, while Nunez only started three. That is the second issue to deal with.
The main worry, correctly or wrongly, is the striker’s price tag when he arrived last year. Nunez is the third most expensive player in Liverpool history, after Alisson Becker (£65m) and Virgil van Dijk (£75m), who stays at the top of the list.
The plethora of add-ons revolve on milestones such as Premier League and Champions League triumph, but club sources stated last year that they anticipate Nunez to at least achieve the £75m figure through the feasible, appearance-based terms of that deal.
Nunez had no say in the amounts agreed upon by Benfica and Liverpool a year ago, but players are usually assessed by their fee, especially when it is negative. The best way to prevent such talk is to perform whenever possible.
Nunez, who turns 24 next week, is gearing up for a big summer of furthering his absorption into Liverpool life. Significant improvements in his linguistic skills are required, according to Klopp, while more attention to detail will be required on the defensive side of his game at Anfield, another area the manager regretted last season.
But the raw minerals are there for him to become another Klopp transfer success story. It is now his responsibility to make his potential a reality.