The rise of Benfica star Darwin Nunez, from surgeries and tears to being Liverpool's No1 attacking target this summer | The Sun
DARWIN NUNEZ is set to be the face of one of the summer’s biggest transfer sagas with Liverpool now leading the race to land the in-demand striker.
West Ham came close to snapping up the Benfica striker, 22, in the January window on deadline day before a late collapse.
And now, some of the biggest clubs on the continent have joined the chase to secure the services of the Uruguayan who has announced himself on the European stage during the 2021-22 season.
As well as scoring an incredible 26 goals in 28 games domestically, Nunez netted six goals in ten Champions League matches.
Those ridiculous stats include a pair against Barcelona, one against Bayern Munich, one against Ajax and two versus Liverpool in Benfica's quarter final defeat.
Now strongly tipped for a move to Jurgen Klopp's Reds in a club-record £85m deal, it is important to understand the player and the person behind the incredible goal-scoring stats.
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Nunez grew up in a poor neighbourhood called Los Piratas in Artigas – a Uruguayan village on the borders of Brazil.
His upbringing in football was a tough one, suffering potentially significant knee injuries that required surgery as an 18-year-old.
Despite this, his biggest attribute was always one of physicality and power, and after scoring 16 goals in his first season with Spanish second division outfit Almeria, Benfica took a punt on Nunez in September 2020 signing a five-year deal for a club-record £20m.
Upon completing that move, it is said Nunez cried with his father in their family home having achieved his dreams after overcoming his knee issues.
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But despite adapting well to the Portuguese league in his first season, the tears soon returned as his knee troubles resurfaced in May 2021.
Those closest to him explain how emotions spilled over after he was subbed during a game against Farense, sobbing on the bench clutching his knee, raging with then-boss Jorge Jesus.
Another poor performance against Sporting Lisbon, where he was clearly playing through the pain, saw him delete his social media account after feeling the wrath of the Benfica fans.
More knee surgery that summer meant he missed the first few weeks of the 2021-22 campaign but came back strong, and has been an unstoppable force since.
Nunez is described by those who know him best as reserved and now in control of his emotions, especially as he has recently become a father.
And since returning to social media, he has even embraced a meme targeting his long hair, and now often celebrates goals by pointing to it.
WHERE WILL HE GO?
Should he get his big move abroad, no one will be laughing at him.
His representatives believe he is ready with Portuguese football always seen as a launch pad.
But which club will he choose? SunSport understands that despite admiring Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, Nunez and his camp do not see it as the perfect fit.
In their eyes, he needs space to run, a physical style of play and a guarantee of minutes, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham all preferable locations, while Man Utd are viewed as more of a risk.
Just watching him against Klopp’s men in the quarter final first leg in Lisbon showed what he is capable of, bravely battling with Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate before pouncing on the latter’s mistake with a true poacher’s finish.
He also took his goal in the 3-3 draw at Anfield superbly.
No wonder Klopp praised him before that second leg.
Benfica manager Nelson Verissimo claims Nunez should be valued at the same amount that Joao Felix was when he left for Atletico Madrid for £113m in 2019.
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The club were willing to part with Nunez for around £65m in January, but that figure now appears to have rocketed up to closer to £85m.
Wherever he ends up, Nunez will be ready and determined to seize his moment.
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