Diego Forlán, Luis Suárez, o Edison Cavani; Uruguay can be considered in the last two decades a factory of top talented strikers. Even though Suárez and Cavani are currently on a high performance level, apart from Maxi Gómez, who is usually called up for the national team, there is another player willing to grab a spot and become a usual starter at Uruguay: Darwin Núñez: 5 years of career and he is already on the plans of big European clubs.
His start at Peñarol
Darwin Gabriel Núñez Ribeiro (24/06/1999 | Artigas, Uruguay) started his path to the elite at Club Atlético Peñarol. His fast growth allowed him to make his debut with the first team from Montevideo in 2017. He was only 18 years old. He scored his first goal the next season after having played 13 official matches. Moreover, Peñarol became the champions. His last season at Uruguay was the 18/19, where Darwin participated in eight games and scored three goals. Even though he did not pull off to become a regular starter, his abilities did not go unnoticed. Darwin began to stand out at his speed and and strength, which hd to be added to his height. The Uruguayan striker, despite this factor (he is 1,87 meters tall), has a great stride that allows him to make runs constantly for long balls. However, he still had a lot of progress to make on driving the ball and making the right decisions during his time at Peñarol, specially on finishing. He even admitted that it was tough for him to not be a usual starter for Peñarol.
The jump to Europe: his sign for Almería.
After three seasons and his call-up to Uruguay, at the Under-20 2019 World Cup held in Poland, Darwin Núñez knocked to the doors in Europe. In one of the most media summer transfer markets ever, Turki Al-Sheikh became the owner of UD Almería and made a huge investment on the club from Andalucía. The managers bet for quality and margin of development players to add to the squad. The sign was made official on the 29th of August of 2019 for a final price of around 6M euros.
The Uruguayan striker did not take too much time to show off his potential. With Pedro Emmanuel as his coach, he scored his first goal at his first game as a starter, where he proved his worth as a lonely striker and a playmaker who would assist him every time. José María Gutierrez ‘Guti’ became the new coach only two fixtures later. He did not hesitate to get rid of important players both for Emmanuel and the club. However, Darwin kept his important role on the team. They used to switch between the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2 system, where the Uruguayan kept making the most out of his abilities: to make runs looking for the defenders´back through his speed and strength. It is exuberant how easy he can be by the offside limit line and get out with such a explosiveness the whole time.
Having by his side another forward like Juan Muñoz, s he is most similar to a playmaker feature, allowed Darwin to have more freedom to make runs and just focus on finishing the scoring opportunities. This is where the turnover point came, that has made him one of the biggest talents from South America: Darwin displayed a better skill in front of the goal and started to improve his finishing outcomes, which was the only task he had to work on. The power he shoots the ball with made him to score 16 goals in 30 matches. However, even though he does not stand out at that, he also has some skillful qualities: he does not hesitate to dribble when he has the chance and he has the ability to go down and keep the ball thanks to his strength.
A record sign: the sky is the limit for Darwin
He has only stayed at Almería for a year. Despite for the controversial end of the season, where the team did not go up to LaLiga, his destination was not another one but emigrate to the elite. Just like Falcao, James Rodríguez, Ángel Di María, and many others, he left to Portugal, this tie to Benfica. There he has found the opportunity to stand out at a national league that is usually the showcase for the highest level clubs. Moreover, he has made his debut at the Europa League. His sign created a lot of expectations since the first moment, as he became the highest price sell for in the whole Spanish second division history and the most expensive transfer for Benfica (24M). Furthermore, the club from Lisboa showed interest in his countryman Edison Cavani. The doubts that might have been on his move to Benfica have been all faded. Actually, Benfica are already dreaming about a historical sell.
The adaptation was not easy and his goals have not come right away, but he forms a great duo with his German teammate Luca Waldschmidt. Their good connection fits perfectly with other key players for Benfica like Rafa Silva. His improvement has been so remarkable that he has started to develop more technical aspects for his game. He is not just striker anymore, now he gets in contact with the ball much more. He has given six assists so far, three of them to Waldschmidt. Even though he needs to improve on driving the ball, his movements inside the box are the ones every striker has to have, and that gives him advantage on headers. The responsible for this is Jorge Jesús. Darwin has recognized the support and confidence he has received from his coach since day one: “Jorge is always talking to me and supporting me, even more when goals were not coming. He gave me confidence and now is time for me to give back to him”, said to an interview to 100% Deporte.
Thanks to this, Darwin´s recent performances have been outstanding. He scored a hat-trick at his debut in the Europa League against Lech Poznan. All those three goals were different and showed the continent his huge potential. The first one was a header after making a movement to the first post, a tactical play by Jorge Jesús; in the second one he received the ball outside the box and he made it in front of the goal through a single dribble and finished in a top quality style; the third one was a shot after a cross by Rafa Silva. He proved in his last game that he is ready to lead Benfica. He entered the pitch with thirty minutes left, 10 man, and 1-3 down, and he gave and assist and scored a goal. Runs, stride and power. Five goals and six assists in 11 games.
“This guy will be the best in the world and, sadly for me, I will loose him shortly”
Jorge Jesús at the press conference after the match against Lech Poznan.
Something from his game to point out is that he usually goes to the left wing in order to make diagonal runs towards inside. The concentration on defenders increases when they have in front of them a forward like Darwin. Intelligence and patience in the runs, power and speed at the start.
He was played with Uruguay the South American U-20 and the World Cup U-20, where he finished off with two goals and one assist. He made his debut with the first national team on the October 16th of 2019. He left his mark with only fifteen minutes of play and an impressive header. The level he is showing at Benfica has make Tabárez to call him up for the Qatar 2022 World Cup classification games. Last Friday he played against Colombia in the second half. He met again with the goal after a tough shot outside the box. He has scored two goals in three games with the national team. His abilities will make him an important player for Uruguay at the next Copa América and even more at the Qatar World Cup.
Darwin his growing very fast and he does not seem to have a limit. He became the most expensive sign ever for Benfica but… How much time will be be in Lisbon? He is 21 and has been a profesional for five years. He is meant to make big things in a top club. Speed, power and goal, the ideal profile of this physical and audacious football. Keep an eye on him the next few months.