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'He doesn’t give a damn' - Inside the mind of Darwin Nunez as big Liverpool change coming

It hasn’t been the easiest start to life at Liverpool for Darwin Nunez following his summer transfer from Benfica. Signed for an initial £64m, if the Uruguayan delivers at Anfield that overall fee will rise to a club-record £85m.

Yet, with opposing fans so desperate to see the 23-year-old fail, a rollercoaster start in line with the Reds’ own rocky injury-plagued fortunes and Erling Haaland’s goal-laden start at Man City has ensured the jury remains out.

During pre-season compilations of his lowlights were swiftly put together gleefully following outings against Manchester United and Crystal Palace, before he silenced such critics with a four-goal haul against RB Leipzig. He’d then come off the bench to score against both Man City in the Community Shield and Fulham on the opening day of the Premier League season as he quickly looked to get his feet under the table.

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Yet any early progress was quickly derailed when his full debut and maiden Anfield appearance was ended prematurely when he was sent off for headbutting Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen, retaliating after being inflicted to just short of an hour of heavy-handed treatment and baiting. A three-match ban followed before Nunez returned from the start against Everton, before coming on against Napoli and Ajax.

Unable to add to his scoring totals, he would be denied by one fine save from Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby. Meanwhile, a good chance to be Liverpool ’s match-winner against Ajax also went begging in front of the Kop.

With Haaland returning 14 goals from his first 10 appearances for Man City - picking up the Premier League Player of the Month award for August in the process - as Nunez was left to kick his heels on the sidelines back at Anfield, the Uruguayan’s critics have re-emerged from the shadows in recent weeks.

But such experiences are hardly new to the striker. He endured a slow start to life at Benfica too after joining for a club-record €24m from Almeria back in September 2020. A bout of COVID and a thigh injury hardly helped matters on the pitch as he scored just six Primeira Liga goals in his first season at the club.

To avoid a flurry of abuse, he deactivated his Instagram account and partook in regular sessions with Evandro Mota, Benfica’s then sports psychologist, in a bid to reignite his fortunes. Ultimately succeeding, a 34-goal season then followed last year, as six goals against Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Liverpool in the Champions League prompted interest from elite clubs all over the continent as the Reds won the race for his signature.

And having worked closely with Nunez at Benfica, Mota, who also worked with the Brazil squad, including current Liverpool goalkeeping coach Claudio Taffarel, at the USA ‘94 World Cup, has no doubt he can go on to enjoy similar success at Anfield despite his challenging start. After all, having been taken aback by the Uruguayan’s maturity when aged just 21, history appears to just be repeating itself for the forward but now he is better prepared than ever.

“When an athlete has the guts to admit he needs some help, it’s so much easier to work with him,” Mota recalled to FourFourTwo . “That’s Darwin, a boy way ahead of his age who always kept an open mind and was willing to listen to the right people.

“When people are dealing with so much criticism, we suggest it’s best if they isolate themselves from the environment that’s doing them harm. Darwin is a kid who demands a lot for himself and realised the social media stuff would only bring him down.

“He had already overcome a lot in his life, and that episode has helped him become an even better professional. That’s what makes him a real gem, not only in terms of technical quality, but also in terms of intelligence.”

He continued: “It was a whole different culture for him (when he joined Benfica). I was impressed by him. He said something that I’ve never forgotten and immediately told head coach Jorge Jesus about.

“Darwin said, ‘Look, I know I have a lot to learn and to keep gaining experience’. This from a 21-year-boy. I’ve been working with some of the best football talents for more than four decades – do you know how many times I’ve seen a youngster being this mature and humble at this age, even after fulfilling his dream of helping his parents buy a home? Very, very few times.”

After being sent off against Crystal Palace, Nunez apologised in the dressing room and before posting his regret on social media. “I know I had a bad attitude,” he wrote. “I’m here to learn from my errors. It won’t happen again.”

Criticism inevitably followed as a result, but Mota believes the striker will be only be stronger for the experience as he looks to leave his mark on the Premier League for Jurgen Klopp 's side after the September international break.

“That (apologising) proves just how humble he is,” Mota said. “When you don’t admit your mistake, you make up excuses. But you’ll never be able to correct your error if you never admit it.

“He doesn’t give a damn about what other people will think, his main priority is to grow up as a footballer and keep gaining experience. He’s already featured in all sorts of competitions – competitions like the ones in South America, which are way tougher than the Premier League in terms of provocation and violence – and only once before had he been sent off, in the Spanish Segunda Division. So don’t believe he’s that player based on one single episode.

“We can expect defenders trying to get in his head more now, but I’ve absolutely no doubt he’ll be a big hit in the Premier League and this won’t happen again. Having gone through so much in his life, he appreciates each step he takes forward and will seize his opportunities. He’s a special lad.”

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