Man Utd, Arsenal or Newcastle: Is Benfica’s £60m-rated promise Nunez ready to become a Premier League star?

DARWIN NUNEZ BENFICAGetty Images

The future of Uruguayan football all of a sudden looks to be extremely bright.

Having flirted with what would have been a disastrous elimination from World Cup qualifying, a change of coach did wonders for the Celeste as Diego Alonso oversaw four consecutive wins to seal their place at Qatar, helped in no small measure by Luis Suarez's eight goal across the CONMEBOL competition.

Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay's undisputed strike kings for more than a decade, are reaching the end of the road, and November's finals may well prove their last hurrah in international colours at the age of 35.

Happily for the South American nation, there is another potential star ready to take on that daunting mantle, as Darwin Nunez continues to show he is ready to survive and thrive at the very highest level.

Nunez, 22, has been one of the revelations of the 2021-22 season leading Benfica's attack.

After a low-key debut campaign following his 2020 move from Almeria in the Spanish second tier, the native of Artigas, an agricultural city on the northern border with Brazil, has exploded this term, smashing 21 goals in just 23 games to lead the Primeira Liga scoring charts and 26 in all competitions for the Lisbon giants.

He has also proved crucial in Benfica's thrilling Champions League run.

Having scored twice in the group stage to shock Barcelona, Nunez was on target again with the only goal of the match in February's last-16 second leg as Ajax were dumped out of the competition, setting up a clash against Liverpool in the quarter-finals.

Darwin PS

“It is a privilege to be in a great European club like Benfica,” Nunez told UEFA Eleven Sports in a recent interview, while recalling the tough football education he received in Artigas.

“When the bell rang at school, I always had the ball at my side and I would run out to the field to play with my schoolmates.

“We played barefoot on rocky terrain: it was common for someone to break something or lose a chunk of toe.”

Naturally enough, Nunez's sparkling record in front of goal this term has not gone unnoticed.

To follow the reports from across Europe, it would seem that almost every leading side on the continent are interested in acquiring the youngster's services this summer.

From Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle United and West Ham in the Premier League to Liga giants Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the striker apparently has plenty of options to choose from.

According to agent Edgardo Lasalvia, though, one team in particular is leading the chase.

“The club which has been most attentive and talked to us most about Darwin is Atletico Madrid,” he explained to A Bola.

“I will travel to Europe soon to meet with them and with Benfica. I think Benfica will be open to the idea of making a good sale, but only at the end of the season, at least that's what we've been told.”

Darwin Nunez Benfica 2021-22 GFX
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What is certain is that the tie against Liverpool represents a golden opportunity for Nunez to show his talents to the rest of the Premier League's big guns, as well as the other teams paying close attention across the continent.

While the Reds boast one of the most formidable defences around, their high backline and intense pressing can allow space for strikers to break through, particularly someone like Nunez, who is equipped with the pace, positioning and awareness to loiter on his marker's shoulder before slipping away and picking up the pass behind.

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Despite having spent most of his career playing either in Uruguay or the Spanish second tier, he has not been daunted by the step up either, and shows every sign of being able to continue improving with every season that passes by.

Benfica nevertheless start as rank outsiders in Tuesday's first leg in Lisbon, but with the Uruguayan leading the line and talents like mercurial ex-Queens Park Rangers and Milan playmaker Adel Taarabt and the rejuvenated former Manchester City warhorse Nicolas Otamendi behind him, the Aguila will be hopeful of a famous upset and their first semi-final appearance since 1990.

Their ace forward in particular has nothing to lose and everything to gain, as he looks to continue his impressive 2021-22 campaign, which may well culminate in a big-money move to one of Europe's elite and a starring role in the World Cup in November.