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Liverpool: Darwin Nunez almost QUIT football at 17 back in Montevideo… now he’s an £85m star


He has change into the most costly signing in Liverpool’s history but as a 17-year-old prodigy in Uruguay, Darwin Nunez almost quit football after he struggled to return back from a serious knee injury.

As he pulls on the red shirt for the primary time he’ll spare a thought for former Uruguayan international and Penarol youth team coach Jose Perdomo who discovered him and later helped persuade him to maintain going.

And to former Uruguay U20 coach Fabian Coito who kept picking him for the national youth side when others, including Darwin himself, had doubts.

Darwin Nunez put injury hell as a teen behind him to change into Uruguay’s latest superstar

Nunez's form at Benfica has been recognised with a £85million summer switch to Liverpool

 Nunez’s form at Benfica has been recognised with a £85million summer switch to Liverpool

‘I called him the opposite day and said: “you’ve got forgotten in regards to the old man!”, says Perdomo. The joke was met with a promise to send a signed shirt soon. Perdomo understands that this can be a busy time for Liverpool’s record signing.

It was nine years ago when Perdomo went to the small town of Artigas on the Uruguay-Brazil border to scout Nunez in an under-13s tournament.

When he told the family he desired to take him to Montevideo, his mum Silvia resisted: ‘Not Darwin too!’ she said having already seen son Junior move to Penarol to attempt to make it.

Nunez struggled to manage at first with the transition from family life in his small hometown to a move 400 miles south, living in shared digs with other young hopefuls within the bustling capital.

And just when he finally began to adapt and advance to Penarol’s B-team, he tore the cruciate ligament in his right knee playing within the national league’s second tier.

All progress ground to a halt, all of the promise was forged into doubt.

In February 2017, he had surgery on the injury and so tough was the road to recovery that he nearly turned around and headed back home to his mum, and brother Junior, who by this time, had given up his dream and was back working in Artigas.

Nunez originally expected to be back from that injury in six months, however it was closer to a yr before he played commonly again.

Nunez (right, pictured playing for Penarol) struggled to cope with the transition when he was first plucked from his small home town of Artigas to live and play out of Montevideo

Nunez (right, pictured playing for Penarol) struggled to address the transition when he was first plucked from his small home town of Artigas to live and play out of Montevideo

It’s hard enough for a teen to adapt to life removed from his family but take away the rationale he’s there – playing football – and it could possibly change into insufferable.

Perdomo, who played for Uruguay at Italia ’90 and briefly for Coventry in 1990, has been bringing young talents through at Penarol for 18 years.

Of the recovery from that injury in 2017 he says: ‘He had been promoted to the primary team and he desired to prove himself but he couldn’t because his knee still hurt.’

Nunez was back in motion in November of 2017 making his debut for Penarol’s first team as an alternative. Nevertheless it was a debut played through knee pain and self-doubt and he soon relapsed needing more surgery.

He wanted to return to Artigas but was talked down. 

‘I told him if he was dedicated he would make it,’ says Perdomo. ‘Along together with his team-mates we convinced him. And it’s to his huge credit that he kept going and likewise that when he left he selected to maneuver to a second tier team in Europe (Almeria where he scored 16 goals in 32 games and earned a move to Benfica).’

One other who never lost the religion was Coito who picked Nunez for Uruguay’s Under-20s and stuck with him until his self-belief returned.

Having been convinced not to turn his back on football, Nunez soon became A hot prospect

Having been convinced not to show his back on football, Nunez soon became A hot prospect

Coito had wanted to choose Nunez for the U20 World Cup, won by England, in June 2017 but that knee injury ruled him out.

When Nunez slowly returned to fitness Coito chosen him for the South American U20 Championships at the beginning of 2019.

He says: ‘It was tough to get the injury out of his head. Injuries may be hard on a psychological level too. He was young and it got here at such a key moment in his early profession.’

He missed probabilities in that South American U20’s tournament and there was more criticism on social media. But Coito persevered and just a few months later on the U20 World Cup in Poland, Nunez was considered one of the celebs.

The now-Liverpool striker never forgot the part his former U20s coach played. ‘I used to be with him during a vital a part of his profession since it was a time when he was not at his best,’ Coito says.

Penarol youth team coach Jose Perdomo (pictured during a spell with Coventry) has spoken to Sportsmail about Nunez's development since being spotted as a teenager in Uruguay

Penarol youth team coach Jose Perdomo (pictured during a spell with Coventry) has spoken to Sportsmail about Nunez’s development since being spotted as a teen in Uruguay

‘We had lots of long conversations. He was frustrated because he had not had the tournament he wanted.

‘In Uruguay the U20s team is a giant thing since it’s what projects you into a complete recent market. If you’ve got a very good U20 tournament you get a giant move. He began to think that his profession was not going to be what he’d imagined.

‘Later that yr, after I was by this time coaching the Honduras team, we played Uruguay and he got here in search of me in our dressing room and we shook hands and he gave me a hug.

‘By now he had played an ideal U20s World Cup for Uruguay scoring an excellent goal against Norway. I just thought: that is great since it might have been different. Because the coach I could have blamed him, pointed the finger at him. But he had positive memories of it despite not scoring the goals.’

How close does Coito consider Nunez got here to quitting?

‘He never said it to me but I got the sensation that at one time it had crossed his mind,’ he says. ‘I believe he spoke about it in an interview too. I believe he missed his brother and he considered whether or not he should proceed in Montevideo.

‘Uruguay is small however the capital can still seem a great distance from home. Young players can get frustrated and need to go home quickly especially in the event that they get a significant set-back like an injury.’

Coaches needed to keep on top of Nunez as he would regularly doubt his own capabilities

Coaches needed to maintain on top of Nunez as he would commonly doubt his own capabilities

He spent time in Spain's second division before honing his talents even more when at Benfica

 He hung out in Spain’s second division before honing his talents much more when at Benfica

Fermin Mendez is a Uruguayan football author for La Diaria who has followed Nunez’s rise and understands how he began to doubt himself. 

‘In Penarol there was an actual obligation to deliver,’ he says. ‘There isn’t any time given to you. You do not rating goals and so they might wait a few games for you but no more. The younger players can find yourself hostages to the expectations.’

Having finally met those expectations there was no stopping Nunez. A call-up to the Uruguayan senior team and a goal inside five minutes of coming on against Peru followed in October of 2019. Now he looks set to play alongside Luis Suarez within the Qatar World Cup and it’s Suarez’s former club Liverpool who’ve made him theirs for a fee rising to £85million.

Does Coito consider there are any similarities?

‘Suarez is more competitive,’ he says. ‘Darwin has a greater natural athleticism. He’s quick and he scores goals. He has so many good qualities.

‘The primary time we saw him it was his ability to get away from defenders that stood out. I would not wish to be a defender against Darwin due to the mobility and movement that he has.

The figure paid for Nunez (right) surpasses the £75m the Reds paid for Virgil van Dijk (left)

The figure paid for Nunez (right) surpasses the £75m the Reds paid for Virgil van Dijk (left)

The 22-year-old Uruguay international joins an extremely talented attack under Jurgen Klopp

The 22-year-old Uruguay international joins a particularly talented attack under Jurgen Klopp

‘He needed to go to Europe to maintain developing. Learning about using the space and conserving energy because in Uruguay the strikers run lots, sometimes an excessive amount of, although he already had that intelligence of movement and that capability to rise up to top speed in a short time. He’s a really intelligent player.’

La Diaria journalist Fermin is a Liverpool fan. Not the Merseyside Liverpool however the Montevideo club of the identical name. They’ve just won the ‘Apertura’ in Uruguay – a very good omen possibly. He likens the player more to Suarez’s international team-mate Edinson Cavani.

‘His development in Spain’s second tier was tremendous,’ he says. ‘He seems more like Cavani now. He may be very complete.’

He’ll must adapt at Liverpool, just as he did in Spain with Almeria, after which in Portugal.

But the teachings learned when he was a teen, removed from home, and with a fledgling profession within the balance, will only serve to assist him try this.

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