DARWIN NUNEZ is set to be the face of one of the summer’s biggest transfer sagas.
West Ham came close to snapping up the £60m-rated Benfica striker in the January window on deadline day before a late collapse.
And now, some of the biggest clubs in Europe are set to join the chase in a bid to secure the services of a Uruguayan who has announced himself on the European stage this season.
As well as scoring an incredible 24 goals in 20 starts domestically, Nunez, 22, has five goals in five Champions League starts.
This includes a brace against Barcelona, one against Bayern Munich, one against Ajax and most recently one at home versus Liverpool in their quarter final first leg.
And as he prepares for the second leg back at Anfield, it is important to understand the player and the person behind the incredible goal-scoring statistics that could soon be arriving in the Premier League.
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 21/22 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 Manchester United is viewed as more of a risk due to their current situation.
Just watching him against Jurgen 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.
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.
But Benfica were willing to part with Nunez for around £65m in January, and there is an understanding he will be allowed to leave for a similar fee in a few months.
Especially given that super-agent Jorge Mendes will be leading the negotiations.
Wherever he ends up, Nunez will be ready and determined to seize his moment.