Darwin Nunez has trended on Twitter for two weeks yet the summer transfer window only opened yesterday. You might not have heard about Nunez until recently, but the chances are that you’re now more than familiar with the Benfica centre-forward.
Erling Haaland was Europe’s most sought-after striker this summer and Nunez, 22, took on that status after Haaland was no longer on the market. Nunez scored 34 goals in 41 appearances for Benfica last season and that haul included six in the Champions League. The forward scored against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool, proving he could compete outside of Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
Manchester United have followed Nunez’s performances. Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, is the only recognised centre-forward at the club and Erik ten Hag knows he needs to strengthen in that position. Nunez has the profile of the type of player which United want to sign, but he’s not an unknown quantity. Any player that scores goals in the Champions League and trends on Twitter is hardly a secret.
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Although Saudi-backed Newcastle share an interest with United in Nunez this summer, it’s actually Liverpool that are set to win the race for his signature. United have been reluctant to get drawn into a bidding war, although the battle now seems to be over.
Benfica have valued Nunez at €100million (£85million) and reports on Friday afternoon suggested Liverpool are close to agreeing a deal that is close to that figure. United plan to spend within their means this summer, but it does feel like Liverpool have beaten the Reds to Nunez. Liverpool are currently superior to United in all departments and that includes off-field business.
It seems likely United will indicate they were outbid for Nunez when the forward is inevitably pictured holding a Liverpool shirt at Anfield, but that might only be some of the truth. The uncomfortable reality is that Liverpool is a more attractive proposition.
The Europa League music will play at Old Trafford next season. United are set to play the likes of Union Berlin, Nantes and Rennes instead of special Champions League nights under the floodlights against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus.
It’s simple: the best players want to play in the Champions League. Nunez tasted the competition last season and it’s hard to blame him for wanting more. The choice between Liverpool and United would have been straightforward, albeit that’s difficult to accept.
The allure of United will always remain, but after the worst season for decades, supporters will have to reluctantly accept the position the club finds itself in. United are in transition and the world’s elite players want the best chance of winning silverware.
United have won just three trophies across the last decade and Carrington is currently not that place. Although it’s hard for supporters to watch rivals sign players of such quality, fans need to exercise patience and a degree of understanding this summer.
This is the lowest point in the club’s recent history and that will affect transfer business – that is certain. That doesn’t mean that John Murtough, who is responsible for United’s recruitment, won’t be smiling when the window shuts on September 1.
There is a section of online supporters that were in hysterics after learning of Liverpool’s ‘breakthrough’ for Nunez, but a more pragmatic approach from fans is needed to survive the coming months. Not signing Nunez is far from a disaster.
The transfer window is like a game of chess and multiple different parties are responsible for moving the pieces. United have no Champions League football and that puts them at an immediate disadvantage, but the club has a strategy to win regardless.
The transfer window has been open for just over 24 hours and United’s business should be judged in 83 days.
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