Delivery from Darwin Nunez: From Penarol to Benfica via Almeria, Uruguayan striker looks ready for the Premier League Soccer News

He is the Uruguayan striker seen as ideally suited for the Premier League after an explosive season with Benfica. Tall but fast, he is able to run through the middle or in from the side. At 22, Darwin Nunez may be the next big striker in the game.

“I’m convinced,” said Gonzalo de los Santos Sky Sports.

“He will become one of the top five strikers in the world.”

De los Santos was his sporting director at Penarol, the club in Uruguay where Nunez’s football story began. He was still there as recently as 2019. In fact, he played in the second half of Spain with Almeria just two years ago. The rise was rapid.

It is the story of a young man with both physical and mental strength.

“Darwin was an introverted boy when he was younger,” explains De los Santos. “Then, as he started to move up through the age groups, he started to relax and with each passing day at Penarol he became more integrated into the group.”

Born on the Brazilian border in Artigas, about as far from the capital of Montevideo as it is in Uruguay, his background was humble. His father worked in construction, his mother collected bottles on the street. Sacrifices were made for their son.

He revealed this detail in a heartfelt press conference after his arrival in Europe. He talked about begging the Penarol President for the move so he could buy a house for his parents in Artigas. Moved to succeed, his motivation was to change their lives.

Fortunately, he had the talent to make it happen.

“His skills always stood out above the rest, as he had a very athletic physique for his age. I think the most remarkable thing about Darwin is this physical potential, combined with his ability to always find the space to break through any defense he has. . faces. “

There were setbacks, even after making his debut at the age of 18. Knee injuries delayed his progress – it was almost a year before he scored his first goal – but endurance is a quality that was evident from the start. “His personality is very strong,” adds De los Santos.

“This does not mean that he is a bad boy, he is just very mature for his age and very calm. He has a winning mindset and that Uruguayan DNA. He is hungry for glory and sporting success both at club level and for the Uruguayan national team. “

The move to Almeria was the right one. It led him to Europe in a country where he spoke the language but beyond the immediate demands of the highest level. David Badia has been deputy manager for much of Nunez’s time with the club and thinks it was a good fit.

“Almeria is not a big city in Spain,” says Badia Sky Sports.

“You’re out all the time because it’s hot, so I only met him walking around town. He didn’t stay home and didn’t talk to anyone. It’s a town where you can walk down the street and people wouldn’t stop him. every five minutes as he might come to Lisbon.

“He’s an ordinary man.”

One chance encounter with Nunez underscored that point when Badia met him while buying a cell phone. “I was with my wife buying a phone myself. It was amazing. You expect him to buy the top model. He just wanted a normal phone so he could call his mother.”

Badia laughs.

“My wife asked for another model.”

Darwin Nunez
Darwin Nunez showed humility outside the pitch as well as unmistakable quality on it

Humble and with a point to prove, he made a good combination in the second division of Spain. He was relieved, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“It’s a very defensive bond with veteran defenders who know everything. They’re trying to push you, they’re kicking you, they’re on you all the time. It’s tough.”

Nunez had to adapt.

“We had several conversations with him,” Badia adds.

“When he arrived from Uruguay, everything was different. The stadiums, even the fields are different. The ball goes faster because we water the field. It makes a faster style than in South America. Therefore, he had to adapt to this rhythm.

“He did it pretty well.”

Javier Agenjo was the coach of Almería. He remembers this same humility. “He just worked hard,” says Agenjo Sky Sports. “He came from a humble family and knew what it took to get to the top. He worked hard then and I’m sure he’s working hard now.”

But, as a fitness trainer, one trait stood out above all others.

“You could see that physically he was one of the fastest players in the league with the acceleration he had,” adds Agenjo.

“He was just like an animal.”

Darwin Nunez's Champions League heat map for Benfica this past season
Darwin Nunez’s Champions League heat map for Benfica this past season

Tactically, that quality shaped the team’s thinking.

“He’s a tall guy but he’s very fast outside the mark and he can maintain that speed over long distances,” Badia explains. “That was amazing for the counterattacks. You could put a long ball to him and he could hit defenders even if they were two meters in front of him.

“He was amazing about that.”

It became Almeria’s main destination.

“We had good players at number 10 and number 8 who could find very nice passes through the opponent’s defensive line. We had another fast winger. And he was our number 9.

“When we stole the ball back in the middle of the field, we could find him easily because he is so good at finding the space, identifying the right areas to attack, understanding the shortcomings of the opposition defenders.”

One game, in particular, remained in Badia’s memory. It was January 2020, the first match after a short winter break. Almeria had a difficult trip to Lugo in the relative cold of Galicia, a task that traditionally takes Andalusian teams out of their comfort zone.

Ten minutes passed when Nunez changed the game.

“It was a wonderful goal on the counterattack. The moment he feels we are going to win the ball, he starts running. If he doesn’t run before then the goal doesn’t happen. Because of that move, when we played the ball, he was already full speed .

“He was one-on-one with the goalkeeper and everyone was waiting for him to go to one side or the other. Instead, he fired straight from a distance. Even the goalkeeper wasn’t expecting that sudden move. It was like a rocket, you. you know. He had those special moments.

“It’s a video I’m still showing to my players today.”

The Darwin Champions League has shot a map for Benfica this past season
The Darwin Champions League has shot a map for Benfica this past season

It was the first of two goals that afternoon and a run of nine goals in 10 games at the start of the year. That form reflected his growing importance to the team. “He developed a lot during the season,” Agenja recalls. “Gentile goals, growing in confidence.”

Almeria missed promotion to La Liga, beaten in the finals, but it was already clear that this would not deny Nunez. “All his teammates knew he was going to move to a bigger club, they also saw the improvement,” adds Agenjo.

“It was his first and last season in Almeria.”

Benwin's Darwin Nunez, center, celebrates after winning against Liverpool
Benfica’s Darwin Nunez celebrates after winning against Liverpool

The move to Benfica was another wise choice. This was a famous team in a high profile league that offered the opportunity to play European football. But it was not yet the absolute elite leagues. He was able to learn his craft, to continue to perfect his raw talent.

This was illustrated by his total of six league goals in that first season at Benfica. The dramatic growth of its production came this past season. Nunez scored 26 goals at a speed of 1.18 in 90 minutes – the best strike rate of any player in the top seven leagues in Europe.

“He moved to Benfica, a bigger team that played in Europe. But the numbers are still there,” said Agenjo. “He has shown himself to be a fighter. He has shown himself to everyone now and he will move to one of the biggest clubs. Sure, he is ready to go one step further.”

Star: Darwin Nunez
Darwin Nunez has shown against Liverpool that he is ready for the Premier League

Speaking to his former coaches, there are smiles, even laughter, when this question of whether Nunez is capable of taking that next step is addressed. They see it as inevitable – a matter of when rather than revealing his talent to a new audience.

Stylistically, there are some clubs that may suit him more than others. Agenjo asks if Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid may be best suited for his counter-attacking skills and fighting instincts. “He’s this type of player,” he says.

Others believe that the speed of the Premier League suits him well.

“One hundred percent,” says Badia. “I think he fits perfectly in the Premier League. He is strong, he can compete in duels, he is very fast. He has improved his first touch. If there is any league in the world in which he will fit it perfectly. is the Premier League. “

Perhaps the last word is best left to De los Santos, Simeone’s former teammate at Atletico, where he also played with Fernando Torres. He is a native of Salto, the city that spawned those Uruguayan greats Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

“Darwin is a player with 10 to 12 elite years in European football ahead of him,” he says. But is he really capable of being one of the top five predecessors on the planet?

“Right now, he’s already in the top 10.”

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