With Liverpool sanctioning a club-record transfer fee for new striker Darwin Nunez, Dr Rajpal Brar assesses his history of knee injuries and any future concerns.
Nunez made an indelible impression on Jurgen Klopp during the Champions League quarter-finals against Benfica, to the point that Liverpool made him their priority signing during this summer’s transfer window.
The club reportedly spent nearly £65 million on the initial transfer fee with an additional £20 million in potential bonuses, which would break the previous transfer record for Virgil van Dijk.
However, with big transfers and pressure comes great responsibility.
A key part of that is staying healthy, particularly after the relatively sparkling injury record of the now-departed Sadio Mane, whose impact Nunez will partially hope to replace.
One of the primary indicators of a player’s injury risk is their previous record, as the greatest risk for future injury is a previous injury – especially with soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons) injuries.
With that in mind, let’s go through Nunez’s injury history.
In 2017, Nunez suffered a left knee injury, and although the injury was never confirmed, it sounds like he suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and underwent a reconstruction.
Obviously, an ACL requiring surgery is a major injury, and the key risks are downstream effects such as increased wear and tear on the knee, part of which depends on the extent of overall damage to the surrounding cartilage (namely the knee meniscus).
In the following year, 2018, Nunez again injured his left knee requiring surgery.
There are conflicting reports regarding the injury, with some stating it was an ACL re-rupture and others stating it was a patellar tendon injury.
Regardless of the specifics, that’s two injuries to the same knee in back-to-back years, which would have raised some concern at the time.
Following that left knee injury – outside of expected minor knocks and mild muscular issues – his only other significant injury came in late May 2021, when he had surgery on his right knee.
Based on the return timeline of nearly 90 days, this sounds most like a meniscus repair procedure.
How concerning is it?
When looking at Nunez’s injury history in a vacuum without context, two left knee surgeries in back-to-back years and a right knee surgery certainly doesn’t sound great.
However, the key factor of the utmost importance is Nunez hasn’t shown any downstream issues on either knee.
The left knee has been relatively injury-free since 2018 and the right knee held up quite well last season as he went on to score 34 goals in 41 appearances, averaging almost 70 minutes on the pitch per game.
His minutes appear to have been carefully managed, with Nunez only completing the full 90 on 12 occasions and being substituted off 20 times.
But further with the right knee, the research on meniscus repairs shows very good outcomes for footballers because you are keeping the tissue intact.
Liverpool medicals – and a key example
Obviously, Liverpool’s medical staff went through a full checkup with Nunez and signed off on his medicals before clearing his transfer.
The higher the fee, the more meticulous the medical staff tend to be and the less risk the club is willing to tolerate.
Look no further than current Real Betis midfielder and at-the-time Lyon star Nabil Fekir’s failed transfer as a prime example of that.
According to his agent, a key reason why his transfer to Liverpool fell through was concern with his knee.
Fekir – like Nunez – had ruptured his ACL and had reconstructive surgery.
From my understanding, Liverpool were not comfortable with the amount of wear and tear in his knee joint and how that would potentially impact him in the medium and long term.
Therefore, they nixed the deal.
The fact that Fekir and Nunez had the same injury – and Nunez also had another surgery on the same knee – but Liverpool’s medical staff signed off in this case (at a higher fee, no less) very likely speaks to how comfortable they were with his medicals.
That’s a very positive indicator of his current and future health.
Nunez and Liverpool’s training staff
Last, but certainly not least, is that Nunez according to multiple reports is extremely committed to his health and physical training off the pitch.
“I love how much focus and humility he has,” Klopp himself said as his new No. 27 was unveiled.
That commitment and dedication is always critical for maintaining health, particularly in the case of players with a previous injury history.
To further bolster that, Nunez now has access to one of the best training staffs in elite football.
A case in point is Liverpool’s sustained fitness level last season while competing deep into every tournament and for the league title until the last day.
That combination of Nunez’s work ethic with their level of expertise bodes extremely well – not only for his injury risk, but for his performance as well.
• Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement mechanics coach, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach.
He runs the online and Los Angeles-based wellness and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts a variety of Liverpool-related content) here.