Darwin Nunez – Right Buy or Wrong Guy?

Quick disclaimer alert.  I have zero inside knowledge of how Liverpool Football Club approaches, discusses internally, selects their targets, or negotiates when the transfer window is open.  I don’t like to make it my business how someone else chooses to run theirs.  Nor should you.  The people making decisions as it pertains to the transfer window have exponentially more information at their disposal than we supporters do.  I don’t like to fret over things I cannot control, and I typically can see the logic behind most transactions.  It often takes time for things to settle before that logic becomes visible to me.  But there is the rare occasion when I sit back with my cocktail and ask myself… did Liverpool do the right thing here???  It’s been some time since that question crept into my head.  Until now

Darwin’s First Few Weeks at LFC

On 13 June 2022, Liverpool FC reached an agreement with Benfica on the transfer of Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez for a £64-million guaranteed fee with add-ons potentially taking that to £85 million.  This deal made him Liverpool’s record transfer.  I’m not disagreeing with the talent of the player, nor the potential.  The 23-year-old is a beast that impressed the world with his Champions League quarterfinals, and I have little doubt that he will be successful at Anfield (even though he does sort of remind me of a South American version of Andy Carroll).  His services suddenly became available this summer when Benfica decided it was time to capitalize on his value.  With the “buy low sell high” transfer strategy that works so well in UEFA’s lesser leagues, his value might’ve reached its peak.  Liverpool acted quickly to acquire his signature, pretty much leaving the little question to his next destination.  No one questioned the move, although some eyebrows were raised when the fee was announced.  To be fair, I’m not really questioning the move either.  I think he’s a supreme talent, and I look forward to watching him play in those matches he’s not suspended for.  What does concern me about the move is the player prioritization so early in the transfer window.  Should that money have been left in reserve to secure another top-class midfielder, a position the club has only seriously reinforced once since 2018?  Harvey Elliott doesn’t count since he was only 16 years at the time, making Thiago Alcantara the only midfielder brought to the club in the last four years.

Transfer Window Rumors

I don’t like to give credibility to transfer rumors and innuendo when the transfer window is open.  I rarely comment on social media, and I truly do trust the “big picture” mentality.  Depth is extremely important when your club plays in the maximum number of matches in every competition.  When you factor in the preferred style of play under Jurgen Klopp, midfield depth is critical.  Fitness is going to play a part in every season, so that must be a consideration when the coaching staff considers its options.  Last season, neither Curtis Jones (27 appearances out of 63) nor Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (29 appearances) could establish any consistency to snag a decent run in the squad.  While Naby Keita remained mostly healthy last season, he only managed to see the pitch in 46% of the matches the three campaigns prior.  Does anyone truly believe these three players can be relied upon if we are to challenge the quadruple with another 63-match season?  With three other midfielders over the age of thirty (Henderson, Milner, and Thiago), perhaps we should be identifying some reinforcements… if not for this season, then the next few.

Read More: Finding Joy in the Grind

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It wasn’t long ago when LFC had the best attack on the planet.  Few clubs could rival the threesome of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah.  Opposing defenses would nervously tremble to try to defend against them.  That success couldn’t last forever as players got older and defenders got wiser.  Planned reinforcements were brought in over the years.  Diogo Jota joined in the summer of 2020 and made an immediate impact.  Having a fourth attacker introduced that element of rotation and depth, giving no club respite from the potential threat of the Liverpool attack.  Luis Diaz was then brought to Merseyside last January.  He was identified as a talent Liverpool would try to acquire in the summer, but the transfer advanced early due to strong interest from Tottenham just before the January window closed.  For all intents and purposes, his transfer fee of £37.5-million (plus a potential £12.5-million in add-ons) would’ve been considered an advancement from the summer 2022 transfer budget.  If you believe the speculation like I do, then you’ll agree that this move was greenlighted because the club already knew Sadio Mane was leaving in the summer.  Not wanting to lose out on the talented Colombian striker as the Mane replacement, LFC simply stepped up and got the deal done.  And no one would argue that his inclusion in the squad injected some much-needed life, helping Liverpool climb back into title contention while winning two domestic Cups.

Last Season’s Truths

The last season ultimately concluded in disappointment.  We chased the quadruple, losing the two big ones on the last day of the competition.  Soon it was time to move on and evaluate how to transform the squad into something that Klopp can develop for another quadruple-questing season.  Julian Ward replaced Michael Edwards as sporting director, and many people were keeping a close watch on how the rookie would operate.  With Mane’s departure already in the works, Ward’s first priority had to be signing Salah to a new contract.  This saga was like the never-ending story that began before last season, and everyone had an opinion.  The longer it continued, the more difficult it would be for Ward to focus on other ways to improve the squad.

Liverpool Players Celebrate Together

Before we proceed, let’s look at the Liverpool attacking options that the first week of June.  This date is important as Ward would finally be looking ahead with plans for squad improvement.  While the Salah contract remained in question, the Egyptian made it clear that he would let his contract run out if no deal could be made.  Firmino also has one final year left on his contract.  For the 2022-23 campaign, Liverpool would have four legitimate attackers (Salah, Firmino, Jota, and Diaz).  But what about the next season after that?  The plausible possibility existed that the club would be left with only Jota and Diaz as both Liverpool legends walk away for free.  You could roll the dice and worry about that problem next summer, but desperation would make it difficult to secure a favorable move.  Enter Darwin Núñez into the conversation.  The Uruguayan could be a solid insurance policy, albeit a very expensive one.

Liverpool sign Núñez on 13 June for a record fee.  Nearly two weeks later on 1 July, they re-sign Mo Salah to his new contract.  Problem solved.  At least one of them.  With Mane firmly out the door, LFC now appears to have five legitimate options for three available attacking spots in the starting eleven.  And when I say legitimate options, I mean players that had each appeared in meaningful World Cup qualifying matches for their country within the past twelve months. At least two strikers who are considered the best their country has to offer will be riding the pine at the start of each match this season.  I’m not complaining about having depth in attack.  Who would?  The concern for me lies with the lack of depth in other departments.  Flashback to 24 October 2021, when Liverpool trounced Manchester United by five of our goals to none of theirs.  It was magical, a thing of beauty.  It encapsulated the joy of being a Liverpool fan in this golden age of rejuvenation.  I looked at that roster from Old Trafford, and the bench was loaded with talent at all positions.  Sadio Mane started on the bench, for crying out loud!  Every bench player could have a case made for their inclusion on the pitch at some point in the match.  Each had a role to play, and the gaffer had options if needed.  Compare that to the bench of the same fixture from Monday.  Only three field players on the pine wore jersey numbers less than the number 40, and of those five players, only Nat Phillips has seen significant first-team action.  Night and day.  It’s true that the club has been hit hard with injuries recently, and our shiny new toy looked nice in the stands sitting out the first of his red-card suspension.  Where we were once feared for our depth, that is currently not the case.

Back to My Initial Questions

Was it a smart move to invest £ 85 million on a new striker to start this window?  Consider the £50-million spent on Luis Diaz that was initially targeted to happen this summer before answering.  I’d love to know who instigated the Núñez negotiation.  Was Benfica looking for a suitor to provide them a nice tidy payday?  Or perhaps Liverpool went in search of a deal that could be used as a bargaining chip in the event Salah chose to move on after next season.  Who picked up the phone first?  Liverpool scouts will tell you that they’ve had their eye on the Uruguayan forever.  But they’ve also had their eyes on a million other players.  The list of players on their radar is quite lengthy. 

At some point during the negotiation, a deal was on the table.  Surely a rookie sporting director would be soliciting input from his manager before accepting that offer.  And having seen first-hand what Núñez did in that quarterfinal against us, Klopp would likely have agreed in endorsing the move to acquire him.  But £ 85 million is a lot to commit for one player.  I wonder if Klopp was given an option.  Was it Núñez or bust?  Would they have informed Klopp that signing Núñez might deplete their budget and thus prevent them from going after another target?  Another concern for me is the timeline.  When Salah eventually signed his new contract, did it have to wait until 1 July?  If it was LFC that caved to the final demand, could that have been done before we made the offer for Núñez?  Would we even have been interested in spending £ 85 million on a fifth striker knowing that we just secured the best forward on the planet for a few more seasons?  Only Ward himself can answer these questions.

Now What With Nunez?

None of this article is meant to be negative towards Darwin Núñez as a player.  He could return from his suspension next month and end up breaking all sorts of records on the way to multiple Ballon d’Or awards in a storied Liverpool career.  I truly hope that happens.  My concern lies with trying to operate a functioning club competing on four different fronts within a perceived limited budget.  Pretty soon, that transfer window will be shutting.  There’s still time for talent to be acquired.  I’m not holding my breath, of course.  But it sure would be nice to see another shiny new midfielder walk into the first team.  Having seen that happen only once in four years is not enough.  I would love for the club to make this entire article moot by seeing someone like Youri Tielemans or Fabian Ruiz making the lean next week.  Make me dream.

The loss to Manchester United was a shambolic disaster.  Despite having more possession, we lost the battle in the middle third at Old Trafford. Jordan Henderson and James Milner were simply not good enough.  We needed more, but our available squad depth was inadequate.  United got a bit lucky, and we did not.  We were the better team on Monday, and I am convinced we’ll finish well above them in the table at the end of the season.  There’s still a ton of football to be played, and despite what some might think… Liverpool Football Club is still in the battle for the quadruple.  Regardless of what you think they should or should not have done this offseason, let’s back the lads.  Sing your hearts out.  And most importantly, try to enjoy football.  See you at the pub!  Up the Reds!

YNWA,

Ken Kendra

The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and do not necessarily reflect that of AmericanScouser.com or Liverpool Football Club.  I am the author of the books “Walking Through The Storm” and “The Golden Sky” both available on Amazon, Kindle, World Soccer Shop, and other book depository outlets.  Follow me on Twitter: @kjkendra11

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