Jurgen Klopp has identified the man he wants to replace Sadio Mane: Benfica’s Darwin Nunez. And he’s prepared to spend big for the Uruguay international – a move will likely set a new transfer record for Liverpool at a cool £ 85million.
It was only in 2019 that Nunez was plying his trade in Spain’s second tier but now, he is the man who could be the symbol of a new era at Liverpool in Klopp’s tenure.
So who exactly is the striker that the Liverpool boss appears ready to pin his hopes on for the upcoming season and beyond? Sportsmail takes a closer look.
Darwin Nunez is wanted by Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool to replace Sadio Mane at Anfield
The place to begin is Portugal. Nunez has been in electrifying form for Benfica and he has an array of suitors – not just Klopp and Liverpool. Manchester United and Atletico Madrid are also big admirers and it is easy to see why.
The 22-year-old scored 32 goals in just 38 games for Benfica last season but they finished third in the league standings, 16 points behind Porto.
Nunez hit 26 goals in the league and was Portugal’s top scorer, six clear of Mehdi Taremi of Porto in second.
The other six of Nunez’s goals came in the Champions League – two of which were against Liverpool.
He scored in each leg against Klopp’s men – a smart finish in the 3-1 defeat in the first leg after an Ibrahima Konate error, followed by a first-time strike in the return fixture to haul Benfica level at 3-3 at Anfield. The score stayed that way, and Liverpool advanced into the semi-finals.
Nunez scored 32 goals in 38 games for Benfica, including two goals against Liverpool
IS HE JUST A STRIKER?
No, and that goal at Anfield is a straightforward example in demonstrating why.
Nunez pounced on a long ball over the top of Liverpool’s defense by running in off the left flank and, via a touch helping it on its way from Joao Mario, beat Alisson with a composed first-time finish.
While, at 6ft 2in, he’s primarily built to be a center-forward, his comfort to switch up and come in on the left will be a draw for Klopp, who places great value in versatility for attacking options. He is fast, as well – and the combination of size and pace is hard for any defender to combat.
‘If this is an audition for him to go to another club, he has certainly passed it with his finishing,’ Martin Keown said on commentary that night at Anfield for BT Sport. But who then thought it would be Klopp lining up a move now?
In truth, Nunez may well look at Liverpool and see it as the perfect next step. Champions League football is on offer, while there is an opening in the front line with Sadio Mane set to depart and Mohamed Salah perhaps following next year.
Nunez’s goal at Anfield, where he ran in from wide of the left, demonstrated his versatility
WHAT HAS KLOPP SAID?
The Liverpool boss did not make any effort to hide his admiration of Nunez around the Champions League tie earlier in the year.
Speaking prior to the 3-3 draw at Anfield, Klopp said: ‘Extremely good looking boy, huh? And a decent player as well. Really good, really good.
‘I knew before, of course, but he played pretty much in front of me with his tough battles with Ibrahima Konate (in the first leg).
‘He was physically strong, quick, was calm around his finish. Good, really good. I always say in these situations if he is healthy, it’s a big career ahead of him. ‘
Jurgen Klopp said Nunez was an ‘extremely good looking boy’ in the build-up to Liverpool playing against Benfica in the Champions League earlier this year
WHAT IS HIS JOURNEY TO BENFICA?
A modest, yet rapid journey to date. He came through the ranks at boyhood club Penarol, in Uruguay, before Spanish second tier side Almeria plucked him from their ranks in 2019, signing him on a five-year contract.
But he was there for just one season. A return of 16 goals in 30 games caught Benfica’s eye and they swooped in September 2020 with a club record fee of £ 20.5m.
Since then, he has an electrifying 43 goals in 69 appearances for Benfica. So far, he has scored lots of goals wherever he has gone.
‘He was Benfica’s most expensive purchase, and when there is no pandemic, he will be the most expensive sale,’ Jorge Jesus, the coach who signed him for Benfica said.
He does not look like he’s going to be wrong.
It has been a rapid rise for Nunez – in 2019 he was playing for boyhood club Penarol in Uruguay
LUIS SUAREZ IS A FAN
Suarez is a proud Uruguayan and regularly talks up his compatriots on the international stage. But if Barcelona had paid him a little bit more attention back in 2020, they could be in a much stronger position right now.
Back in March, in an interview with journalist Gerard Romero over Twitch, Suarez said: ‘I recommended Darwin to Barcelona when he was at Almeria.
‘I have 15 years of international experience. I know a thing or two about forwards. And I told them, “pay attention to this one, he’s very good, he shows interesting things”.
‘They told me he was at Almeria and that he was too young. But instead of paying now € 80m, € 90m or € 100m, they would have paid € 15m or € 20m and have him there as a substitute. ‘
Nunez has so far played 11 times for Uruguay, scoring twice.
Nunez has played 11 times for Uruguay – and has impressed his compatriot Luis Suarez
NEW AGENT CAN HELP WITH ANFIELD WELCOME
Nunez is changing agents at present, leaving his Uruguayan representative Edgardo Lasalvia to join Jorge Mendes’s stable.
Mendes already represents three potential Anfield team-mates for Nunez in Diogo Jota, Fabinho and Fabio Carvalho, who is a summer arrival from Championship outfit Fulham.
Nunez announced the news on Twitter in March, where he had to dismiss reports he needed extra security in Uruguay after receiving threats regarding the change-up.
‘I want to clarify that I will not renew my contract with my representative Edgardo Lasalvia. I also want to clarify that neither my family nor I have received any threats and we are fine, ‘he wrote.
Almeria are in line to receive 20 per cent of any sell-on fee Benfica get for Nunez.
Three of Nunez’s possible Liverpool team-mates are represented by new agent Jorge Mendes