Just about two years ago, Darwin Nunez was a transfer interest of Brighton & Hove Albion but the club’s lack of war chest meant he’d head for Benfica
The attacker who joined Benfica from UD Almeria in 2020 didn’t have a great first season in Portugal but settled like a duck to water in the second and final season at the club. In this past season, he scored 26 goals in 28 Portguese Liga games and 6 goals in 10 in the Champions League, enough to turn the eyes of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Fresh from Uruguayan club, Penarol, Nunez joined UD Almeria in 2019 and scored a goal in every two games for the club. His performance however fell short of helping the club secure promotion to La Liga and with his stock rising, a bigger move was the right move.
From Uruguay to Spain to Portugal to England, all in the space of three years, Nunez has become one of the Premier League’s most expensive players and potentially, the most expensive in Liverpool’s history.
A £65m deal, potentially rising to £85m would have been a distant possibility two years ago for the Uruguayan but such is the nature of the game. Things change so fast.
Can Sadiq Umar take a cue?
Umar for the past two seasons has shown a good level at UD Almeria. A player known never to settle, he left Rangers under Steven Gerrard in search of first team opportunities.
Highly-rated in his time at AS Roma, he left the club owing to lack of playing opportunities and has had a nomadic career ever since, finding his mood back in Serbia before settling for the lower divisions of Spanish football.
Clearly, he and his management understand what it means for a young player to build stature, status and confidence through regular football. At UD Almeria, he has developed into a better player and one who is being courted round Europe.
In the 2020/21 season, he scored 20 goals in 38 games, an average of more than a goal in every two games. He also racked 7 assists that season. In the recently-concluded season, he scored 18 goals in 36 league games, and assisted 9 times, both the highest at the club in the season, pushing Almeria to the La Liga and winning the Spanish Segunda Division. When one considers the number of games he missed as a result of the AFCON, this becomes even more impressive.
At 25, Umar has matured, yet is still growing into an even better forward. Although his weaknesses are a concern, his intangibles and qualities make him a real deal on his day.
Should he stay put at Almeria, he has a chance to play in a league that hasn’t had a Nigerian attacker in some time, but that’s looking at the collective. Individually, it may be time for the attacker to weigh his options. It could be the chance and period he has to make a vertical move to a club where his stock will even rise further.
While he’s significantly older than Nunez and realistically may never be that highly valued in financial terms, he can play for a big team someday soon. There’s the potential, there’s the desire and if he sheds the typical stagnancy that happens to Nigerian footballers, there is a way. Umar may be the man soon, if the goods keep coming.