EXCLUSIVE: Liverpool have signed one of the hottest striking talents in world football from Benfica in the form of Darwin Nunez but he endured a tough childhood back in Uruguay
Liverpool’s new £ 85million signing Darwin Nunez has already scored the most important goal of his life.
When the 22-year-old Uruguayan striker was having kickabouts with his mates in the streets of Artigas, a city in the north east of the country situated close to the Brazilian border, they would dream of one day being good enough to buy his parents a new house.
The Humble family home Nunez shared with dad Bibiano, mother Silvia Ribeiro and older brother Junior was built on the flood plain of the Cuareim River and the few sticks of furniture they owned would often be washed away.
Nunez has always believed his mission in life is to look after the people who sacrificed everything to give him a chance to escape the poverty he was born into. “I don’t ever forget where I come from,” says Nunez. “I am part of a humble, hard-working family. My father worked as a laborer on a building site for eight or nine hours every day and when his shoes were falling off his feet they would still try to find money to buy me football boots.
“My mum was a housewife. But she walked through the streets of the town collecting empty bottles to sell back to the stores. We had a house in Artigas – but it was never in good condition (because of the floods). My first thought when I started playing football was to buy a house for my parents and set up a business for them. That was my goal. I have kept working hard to please my mum and dad because they did everything for me. It is like I am giving them something back for all the love they gave me. ”
Nunez added: “A father’s love is unique. My dad showed me that not everything in life is material. Yes, I often went to bed with an empty belly. But the one person in the house who went to bed with the emptiest belly was my mum. A mother does everything for her children. My mum often went to sleep at night without eating anything because she wanted to feed the rest of us.
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“I grew up in a poor neighborhood but I am proud of where I came from. It was there that I learned how important it is to share things. When I was with my friends, we would all bring something we could all share, like a snack or some candy. I used to go to school at 7am because they would give us something to eat. When I got out of school at 3pm, I would go straight to training because mum wasn’t at home. She was out collecting bottles. ”
Nunez was spotted by a Scout from Penarol and moved 370 miles to Montevideo aged 14 to join the club’s academy. Brother Junior was also on Penarol’s books and had just started training with the first team when he was forced to call time on his fledgling career to return to Artigas help with a family emergency. Junior refused to take his sibling with him and urged the youngster to realize both of their dreams.
Nunez’s route to the top was not smooth. He needed an operation at 16 to repair knee ligament damage and went back under the surgeon’s knife again after playing through the pain barrier to make his senior debut. “My knee hurt, but I gritted my teeth to play,” he recalls. “The medics told me it was in my head, but at the end of the game I came off the pitch crying from the pain. They had to operate again – this time on my patella. Again there was a lot of suffering. ”
Nunez moved to Europe to sign for Spanish club Almeria in 2014 and a season later they were snapped up by Portuguese Giants Benfica for £ 20.5million. They would eventually become Liverpool’s record signing, with the Reds paying £ 64.2million plus another £ 25million in add-ons. Yet his Spectacular rise has often been plagued with doubts. Nunez had to seek psychological help when they became the target of social media trolls whilst playing for Uruguay at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland.
He explained: “I used to look at the (social media) networks a lot – but then I saw comments that I didn’t like. They actually made me feel sick. The Criticism started to get me down and I had to speak to the national team of psychologist Axel Ocampo. He helped me a lot, but the answer was simple. Now I don’t turn my cellphone on in the dressing room to read what is being said about me. I only turn my phone on after games to speak with my family and friends. I will only listen to the people who have been supportive. ”