Liverpool take no major transfer risk with Darwin Núñez and £131m trio can reassure FSG
On the face of it, Liverpool’s deal with Darwin Núñez is fraught with risk. He may have scored 34 goals for Benfica last season, but he’s yet to prove himself in Europe’s top five leagues. As recently as 2019/20, he was playing in the Spanish second tier for Almería.
At 22, he is still raw. Although his goalscoring record is excellent, there are some concerns over the quality of his link-up play and ball retention outside the penalty area.
On top of that, he surpassed his xG by a huge margin of 11.37 in Primeira Liga last season (26 goals against 15.73 xG). Optimists would say those numbers underscore his finishing ability, but that kind of outperformance won’t be sustainable.
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And yet, Liverpool are investing what could prove to be a club record – an initial amount of £64m, which could grow to over £85m depending on appearances and team success.
Núñez is to replace Sadio Mané, one of the best strikers on the planet, and a player who has reached the 20-goal mark in four of the last five seasons. They can’t necessarily keep pumping money into the position like some of their rivals. They need that to work.
This move therefore appears to be at odds with FSG’s reputation for risk-averse recruiting. But is this reputation really justified? Or did the ultimate success of bought players lead to the rewriting of history?
Consider these examples. After joining Internacional in the summer of 2016 and playing second fiddle to Wojciech Szczęsny at the start, Alisson Becker had been Roma’s number one goalkeeper for just one season before Liverpool signed him.
Yes, he had been excellent in 2017/18, ‘preventing’ 10.8 Serie A goals – the league‘s best saved shots record – but he was still bold for FSG to spend what was a record amount for a goalkeeper. They pinned all their hopes on him as a solution to the goalkeeping problems that cost them the 2018 Champions League final.
And what about Mohamed Salah? He had scored an impressive 19 goals and provided 15 assists in his final year with the Serie A side, but was known in England as a failed player at Chelsea, having made just 19 appearances.
There was a feeling he might not be cut out for the Premier League, with one journalist sadly predicting he would be ‘another Juan Cuadrado’, who lasted seven months at Stamford Bridge after a 27.9 transfer million pounds from Fiorentina.
Then there is Mané. Eleven goals was a reasonable tally at Southampton, but he was widely regarded as a player who could be explosive in bursts but lacked consistency. Indeed, he had endured a five-month goalscoring drought in that 15/16 campaign (which started and ended against Liverpool, by the way).
Perhaps even more than Alisson and Salah, many questioned the wisdom of the move at the time. It looked like it could be a repeat of the ill-fated £32.5million signing of Christian Benteke. The Belgian had been a handful for top sides but that didn’t mean he was equipped to play for one.
There are a number of other examples that you could cite as well. Andy Robertson cost FSG just £8m but Liverpool had long-standing problems at left-back and there was no guarantee the relegated Scot would be a solution. Diogo Jota scored just seven PL goals in his last campaign at Wolves and Luis Díaz, like Núñez, had no Big Five League experience.
But the key point is this: for Liverpool, these moves don’t seem risky. FSG combine large amounts of data with the eye test: they will only sign players if the underlying figures suggest they will be devastatingly effective in the Liverpool system, and if Jürgen Klopp thinks that they will suit his desired style of play.
Most sane elite teams will operate this way, of course, but few have reached Liverpool’s recruiting standards. And the success of these apparent FSG bets is very reassuring to any supporters who have any apprehensions about Núñez.