How a karaoke classic got Darwin Nunez on song with the Reds: £85m new boy had a quiet start on tour… but he started to feel at home after his initiation song in Austria got their Latin contingent dancing
- Darwin Nunez had seemed as though he might take some time to settle
- It is tradition at Liverpool for new signings to take part in a karaoke night
- Nunez came to life on stage and managed to get the whole team dancing
The Brandlhof Hotel in Saalfelden, close to Salzburg, is a haven of tranquillity and has become the place Jurgen Klopp likes to launch Liverpool’s season.
Set in the Austrian Alps, its outdoor facilities offer everything the modern footballer requires to get fit, but last month it was an event after all the physical conditioning had taken place that could yet have the biggest bearing on the club’s campaign.
Darwin Nunez had given the impression during his opening weeks at Liverpool that he would need time to settle. He had been quiet around camp and some wondered what he would make of a planned karaoke night.
Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring against Fulham on his Premier League debut
A traditional initiation event, it was the evening when all newcomers had to sing but Nunez, Liverpool’s £85million signing from Benfica, looked apprehensive as he waited to take the microphone.
Once on stage, however, the transformation was immediate. Nunez, who cannot yet speak English, sang in Spanish and such was his enthusiasm Liverpool’s Latin contingent quickly joined in, with Luis Diaz dancing with a shirt around his head. Soon the rest of the squad followed suit.
There was recognition within the group that Nunez would be under immediate scrutiny owing to the huge transfer fee and they wanted to relieve the pressure, so much so that Mo Salah let the Uruguayan take a penalty in a friendly against RB Leipzig to get his first goal.
That move worked, as Nunez ended up scoring four in a 5-0 win. But the karaoke evening was seen as just as important a moment for welcoming the 23-year-old, the point at which he started to come out of his shell.
The striker has managed to settle in quickly after a quiet first few days at the club
When he stooped to head in the third goal in the 3-1 Community Shield victory over Manchester City, the affection with which he is held was summed up by a spontaneous celebration in which every member of the squad rushed to engulf him.
Nunez, who scored one and provided an assist in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Fulham, is up and running on Merseyside and is guaranteed an ovation at Anfield on Monday that will show the Kop has a new hero, one who will have a significant bearing on their fortunes in the coming years.
This is all a far cry from the situation he was in six years ago, just as Klopp’s reign was getting under way, when as a 17-year-old trying to forge a career, Nunez suffered a serious knee injury that required major surgery and left him considering whether he should give up on his dream.
‘He never said it to me but I got the feeling that at one time quitting had crossed his mind,’ Fabian Coito, who coached Nunez for Uruguay’s Under 20s, tells Sportsmail. ‘Uruguay is small but the capital can still seem a long way from home.
‘Young players can get frustrated and want to go home quickly, especially if they get a major setback like an injury.’
When Nunez runs out at Anfield for the first time, he will spare a thought for Coito and his former Penarol youth team coach, Jose Perdomo, a member of Uruguay’s 1990 World Cup squad who discovered him and later helped convince him to keep going.
‘I called him the other day and said, “You have forgotten about the old man!’” Perdomo tells Sportsmail. The joke was met with a promise from Nunez that he will send a signed shirt soon, though Perdomo understands this has been a hectic time for his protégé.
It was nine years ago that Perdomo went to the small town of Artigas on the Uruguay-Brazil border to scout Nunez in an Under 13s tournament. When he told the family he wanted to take him to Montevideo his mother, Silvia, resisted.
‘Not Darwin too!’ she said, having already seen her eldest son, Junior, move to Penarol to try to make it. Junior, who was a busy attacking midfielder, eventually stopped playing and became a policeman.
Nunez struggled to cope at first with the transition from family life in his small hometown, where his mother worked cleaning houses and his father was a builder. The move took him 400 miles south, living in shared digs in the bustling capital.
And just when he began to adapt and advance to Penarol’s B-team, he tore knee ligaments playing in the national league’s second tier. All promise was cast into doubt as he had surgery in February 2017. ‘I told him if he was dedicated he would make it,’ adds Perdomo, who played for Coventry in 1990.
‘Along with his team-mates we convinced him. It’s to his credit that he kept going, and also that when he left us he chose to move to a second-tier team in Europe.’
That second division side was Almeria in Spain, where he scored 16 goals in 32 games. Gus Poyet was a huge fan of his compatriot and urged Brighton, where he once managed, to sign him.
Dan Ashworth was the club’s technical director at the time and tried to make it happen but Almeria were not convinced. Luis Suarez, meanwhile, had seen enough of him as an international team-mate to tell Barcelona to sign Nunez as his long-term replacement at the Nou Camp.
The advice was not taken, it was Benfica who profited and it was in Lisbon he truly began to flourish, with his star soaring last season. He showed Barcelona what they had missed when scoring against them in the Champions League, he gave Liverpool big problems too.
‘He is direct and he makes good runs in behind; he’s quick and he’s strong,’ says Virgil van Dijk. ‘He’s a modern-day striker. He has to just focus on himself, on the team, improve. He has had a good start — but it’s only a start. Hopefully there will be many more good times and we are all confident.’
His team-mates have belief and, crucially, so does Nunez. As he showed in Austria, taking centre stage holds no fears.
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