The club haven’t released any snaps of Darwin Nunez leaning on various parts of the training ground yet (although they might have by the time you read this), but rest assured, the deal is done.
Benfica confirmed as much on their club website last night, and a Nabil Fekir like one-eighty is simply not going to happen!
Nunez represents one of the most exciting bits of business of the Jurgen Klopp era.
Firstly, it’s the most expensive, as Nunez will make enough appearances to trigger the extra £12.8m in add-ons on top of the £64m guaranteed. That means there is pretty much a guaranteed £76.8m transfer fee, with £8.5m depending on team success, which eclipses the £75m Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk in 2018.
Secondly, Nunez is one of Europe’s hottest prospects, coming off the back of a brilliant season in Portugal in which he scored 34 goals in all competitions, including six in the Champions League. His performance at Anfield was incredible; bagging once, having two disallowed and giving Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip the runaround.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the Nunez signing signals the end of something brilliant and the start of something new. Sadio Mane will depart for Bayern Munich, spelling the end of Klopp’s famous front-three, which included Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. While we hope Salah and Bobby will be part of a new-look Liverpool in different ways, they have one year left on their contracts and could follow Mane out of the door next summer.
Stylistically, Nunez is different to Salah, Mane and Firmino and his arrival suggests the start of a tactical evolution. The Uruguayan is more physically composing; tall but fast – and does his best work inside the penalty area. He isn’t a dribbler or someone you’d describe as a beautiful technician in the Firmino mould; but is a much, much better finisher and has natural movement off the back of defenders. His pace means he can get in behind, but his strength means he can hold the ball up, too. Klopp has barely played with a traditional centre-forward for the past five years, so it’s mighty interesting to see how an already brilliant side will develop.
There is plenty of work for Julian Ward to do though before next season begins, however.
Firstly, the new sporting director needs to do something his predecessor Michael Edwards did very well and make some good money from selling the players who have little first-team prospects.
Mane will fetch us £40m once Bayern stop messing about, but Taki Minamino (£17m), Neco Williams (£15m), Nat Phillips (£10m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£10m), Rhys Williams (£5m) and Ben Davies (£3m) can essentially pay for the Nunez deal if we get them out of the door permanently.
Minamino was a very good rotation player and Ox had his moments, but realistically, the regular first-team will not be significantly weakened without those players.
Clubs will likely try and loan this lot instead of buying, but even then, Liverpool will potentially be able to make good money from loan-fees, with the hope of a permanent-clause inserted for next summer.
With those names set for the exit-door, there will hopefully be enough money to bring two more players in. We need a right-back to support Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the man Liverpool have decided upon is Aberdeen’s Calvin Ramsay. He’s a Scottish youngster with a big future and between him and Joe Gomez, we should be ok when Trent needs a breather.
More expensively and more pressingly, we need a new central midfielder. The fact we went for Aurelien Tchouameni before he went to Real Madrid proves the club is working on this position. With James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Thiago all in their thirties, and Ox leaving, it’s a priority.
With technical players like Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Fabio Carvalho options in one of the advanced no.8 roles, we need a powerhouse in the Jude Bellingham mould. Someone who can control games, win the ball back, make things happen and maybe even get into the box and score some goals – something our midfielders haven’t done for a while. EOTK has heard noises Liverpool might actually test the water for Bellingham this summer, although the player has said he won’t leave this year. Other mooted targets include Barcelona’s Gavi, who has an intriguing £50m release-clause. That could end up a serious bargain for one of the best teenagers in world football.
If we can offload our deadwood, buy a right-back and a central midfielder, there is still one very pressing issue that has become more of an elephant in the corner: Salah’s contract.
With Mane leaving, you’d hope the club is doing everything it can to re-sign the Egyptian, the best player in the Premier League bar perhaps Kevin de Bruyne. Right now, talks are at a standstill, with the two parties very far apart in their valuations, but it would be a travesty if Salah ran down his deal and left on a free next summer. There’s still three or four years left at the very, very top for Mo and making sure he spends those years with us will be Ward’s to-do list.
Get all this done and the Reds might well have another crack at the quadruple in 2023/24!