Halfway through his first season at Liverpool, the footballing world has unanimously settled on “chaos” as the best description of Darwin Nunez’s approach to the game.
Flashes of breathtaking athleticism, searing pace, and polished movement are often awkwardly followed by wasteful finishing and head-scratching decision-making on the ball.
There is absolutely a world class striker in there, the underlying stats and the trusty eye test bear that out. However, in an instant gratification era of football fandom, players experiencing growing pains are often quick to be written off as flops.
Fortunately for the 23-year-old, he is working with the perfect manager for the job, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp boasting a record of molding game-changing no. 9s such as Roberto Firmino at Anfield, and Robert Lewandowski at his former club, Borussia Dortmund.
Now one of the deadliest strikers to have ever laced a pair of boots, it is easy to forget that the Polish assassin was at one time in a similar position to Nunez, leading to frustration amongst the supporters with his halting start to his career at the Westfalen Stadium.
At the time, the young striker was behind Lucas Barrios in the pecking order, with Klopp encouraging the struggling youngster with his patented mix of fatherly encouragement, tactical experimentation and fiery motivational pep talks.
“If we could now just rewind, going back to that time,” Klopp recalled of his and Lewandowksi’s journey to stardom “I was sitting in press conferences and journalists, really, when I started playing Lewandowski they asked me ‘Why isn’t Barrios playing?’”
“It was a constant conversation.
“Lucas Barrios had scored 16 goals that season and was the No. 9 in our team, so Lewy started playing a little bit in different positions to adapt to different things.
“He didn’t like it too much, Polish journalists were not too friendly with me because he didn’t play No. 9, he played in 4-2-3-1 as a No. 10 – I thought at the time it made absolute sense to develop his game.
“So there are a lot of similarities, to be honest.”
Funnily enough for a player renowned for his nearly unmatched prowess in front of goal, Lewandowski, like Nunez, once struggled with his finishing. Klopp revealed an amusing strategy he used to motivate the highly competitive Pole into becoming the elite finisher he is today:
“I think Lewy would tell the same story. We had shooting sessions where he didn’t finish off one,” Klopp continued.
“We had bets all the time, for €10, ‘if you score more than 10 times, I pay you €10; if you don’t, [then you pay me]’. My pocket was full of money!
“It’s all about staying calm. When you see the potential, stay calm.
“It’s difficult in the world we are living in. I don’t want to get personal now, but because of you [in the media], asking and making a big fuss of everything.
“Then of course, the supporters, social media, all these kinds of things. You more you can shut that off, the better it is.”
Nunez finds himself in a similar position to a young Lewandowski after a slow start to the season that saw Nunez miss early matches after a silly red card against Crystal Palace and needing time to adjust to new teammates, new language, and a new league. However, the performances started to pick up leading up to the break for the World Cup, with the livewire striker impacting games even through his occasional flubs.
“It’s not only with Lewy,” Klopp continued in contrasting his striker proteges . “But Lewy’s the obvious comparison. I understand that. But it’s not only with him.
“It’s just about staying calm and I am super calm – and the team as well, by the way. The team is completely convinced and that’s really cool.
“So yep, let’s hope we all, him included, stay healthy, then everything will be fine.”