There are not many players that have passed through Wearside over the past 30 years that have the same level of notoriety as Milton ‘Tyson’ Nunez.
Whilst the Honduran officially only played a total of fifteen league minutes during his two and a half season stint at the club, the simple mention of the little striker is enough to send any Sunderland fan into hysterics, recalling varying stories of just exactly how Nunez ended up signing for us.
There’s more than a couple of popular theories that constantly revolve around the mysterious signing of ‘Tyson’. One was that Peter Reid simply watched a few too many grainy videos, another was that after one too many beers on a scouting trip to Greece (where Nunez was on loan at) Reid got his players mixed up.
According to Nunez himself, the truth is somewhere in between. As he commented in 2017:
I asked the Sunderland coach, ‘and why did you bring me here? You saw a video of Eduardo Bennett but that was not me.’ And they were looking for the Adolfo “The Train” Valencia. How did they compare him with me if he was a tall black [man]? I had him as a teammate, but I do not know what I was doing there.
So... in essence, we scouted Eduardo Valencia, thinking it was Eduardo Bennett and ended up signing Milton Nunez? Ah, easy mistake to make after a few shandy’s isn’t it?
Now, the signing of Milton Nunez was without a shadow of a doubt, a complete and utter disaster, but the question of what happened to the ‘real’ Milton Nunez did begin to bug me.
Aside from the hilarity and craziness of the Nunez move, did we actually miss out of a gem that could have shot us into Europe?
Eduardo Bennett, the man we originally planned to scout and seemingly sign was a 5’10 centre forward born in the Honduran city of La Ceiba. As with ‘Tyson’, he also came with a ready made nickname of El Balin, which roughly translates as ‘The Demon’ - a demon of what exactly, we aren’t too sure.
El Balin appeared for no less than sixteen different clubs across a twenty year career that yielded a total of 88 club goals and 19 goals for his national side in just 36 games; whereas, our boy Milton hit 33 goals for Honduras, though it did take him more than double the amount of games to hit that tally, appearing for Honduras a total of 86 games.
Sadly for Bennett, Peter Reid allegedly drinking the Greek bar dry and confusing three different players was the closest he ever came to leaving South America, ending his career at Necaxa of Mexico in 2010. Whilst not exactly a bullet dodged, it appears Bennett - who now manages Honduran side UPNFM - wouldn’t have exactly set the world alight either. At least with Milton, we got the half-time shadow boxing against Everton, which was pretty exciting for a minute or two, wasn’t it?
Lastly, what of the player that Reid and Sacko didn’t go to scout, but liked the look of before getting him confused with a player half his size, Adolfo Valencia?
Well... this guy was a little bit of a different story.
A quick scan of his playing history and you’ll see the likes of Bayern Munich and Athletico Madrid appear and, although he was reaching his mid 30s when scouted by Reid, it is perhaps not to surprising that ‘The Train’ (yes, another nickname) caught the attention of our onlooking manager. I mean, you don’t just get the nickname The Train from anywhere, do you now?
He had traveled to two World Cups with Columbia in 1994 and 1998 respectively, whilst also being part of a Colombian side that demolished an Argentina team, that included Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Simeone, 5-0 during World Cup qualifying. This guy had pace, speed and power - he was basically everything Milton Nunez was not.
At six feet tall, a fair few years older and a completely different nationality you had to ask the question just how much Peter Reid had drank to make such a huge mistake, if Nunez’s take on the signing is indeed true.
Valencia ended up signing for Metrostars (now Red Bull NY) in America and continued to hit double figures in the MLS, Colombia and China season upon season until retired aged 35 in 2003. Not exactly the biggest leagues, but 46 goals across two and a half seasons at the age of 34/35 isn’t bad at any level.
So, in essence, will we ever know who the real Milton ‘Tyson’ Nunez is? Or who it was meant to be? Probably not. Only Peter Reid knows the true answer.
A question that has never really been asked is had we signed the right player (whoever the f**k it was meant to be) would it have made a difference to the outcome of Peter Reid and Sunderland’s success over the coming years?
Well, that’s more of a maybe.
One thing is for sure, maybe we could have given Quinny that well earned rest, maybe the likes of Lilian Laslendes, Tore Andre Flo and Patrick Mbomba would have never set foot on Wearside and maybe, just maybe, the extra strength in depth could have seen us sneak in the European spots had a certain Adolfo Valencia been purchased.
But that wouldn’t be very Sunderland would it? Viva Milton Nunez!