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Luis Diaz: Who is the €80m Liverpool-linked star following in Falcao and James Rodriguez's footsteps at Porto?

11:00 GMT+3 28/01/2022
Luis Diaz Porto
The Colombia international has become one of the hottest properties in European football despite being an unknown until the age of 18

Though they are all now stars in their own right, Liverpool’s current attacking quartet all had relatively low-key starts to their careers.

Sadio Mane was born in the most remote region of Senegal, Mohamed Salah grew up in a village far from Cairo, Roberto Firmino was basically an unknown in Brazil when playing for Figueirense, and Diogo Jota started out at tiny Pacos Ferreira in Portugal.

That has allowed them to remain humble after becoming some of the most recognisable faces in the world game, and is one of the most important reasons behind their success.

It is a trait shared by Luis Diaz, the latest forward to be linked with a move to Anfield. The Colombia winger is a very shy and down-to-earth individual, who will not forget his roots, even if he is becoming a superstar back home.

His four goals at Copa America 2021 have sparked that new level of fame, though Diaz had already become a top performer for Porto, following the footsteps of his compatriots Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez in doing so.

But the speedy wing wizard is keeping his feet firmly on the ground off the pitch, and is regarded as being a role model of a professional.

Colombians tend to be open and outgoing people, but Diaz is different. He comes from Wayuu origins in the very north of the country, where people tend to be introverted.

Jaime Moscote, his manager at Junior Barranquilla in 2017, recalled in a GOLCaracol interview: "Lucho was one of the most reserved players, who was usually quiet and spoke very little. He is a very hard working guy, who came first to every training session and gave absolutely everything.”

Diaz is the first top footballer to emerge from the Wayuu community, with the municipality of Barrancas one of the most neglected areas of Colombia, where hundreds of children reportedly die of hunger every year, and football scouting is less developed there.

Lucho, therefore, did not study the game properly until the age of 18, when he was lucky enough to have been discovered by national legend Carlos Valderrama ahead of the unique South American tournament for indigenous people: the Copa Americana de Pueblos Indigenas..

Valderrama was in charge of the Colombia team in 2015, alongside his friend, former defender John Pocillo Diaz, and they noticed Lucho at the team’s trials, as the thin teenager impressed with his dribbling skills.

"We feared that it could be difficult for him, because he was very skinny and lost all the physical duels, but he still stood out amongst 400 candidates," Pocillo Diaz recalled.

Valderrama, the most celebrated Colombian footballer in history, loved Lucho's ball control. Ronaldinho is Diaz's role model, and he always tried to invent tricks and enjoy himself with the ball, like the Brazilian superstar. Those efforts were not in vain, even though a lot of work was needed to become a proper footballer.

"Lucho had a big problem, because he had a habit of running with the ball looking at the ground, and often didn't even notice that he had reached the end of the field,” Pocillo Diaz continued.

“He was very fast, possessed brilliant technical skills, and the ball stuck to his foot like glue, but he had to learn."

Colombia had a great tournament, reaching the final, and by 2016, Diaz had joined second division side Barranquilla FC, where the coach, Fernel Diaz, took him under his wing.

"Lucho can shoot from outside the area, he is comfortable with both feet, he can dribble, open defences up and score goals. He can do everything," he said.

Malnutrition problems had to be addressed, and Diaz often ate the same meal twice in order to get stronger. By the time he joined the mighty Junior Barranquilla in 2017, he was much more athletic and ready to play in the top division.

What followed in 2018 was a magnificent year for Diaz, during which he scored 13 league goals and was called-up to the national team for the first time.

His debut in the yellow shirt was wildly celebrated in his hometown of Barrancas, where a huge screen was placed in the central square so that all the locals would be able to watch the game together. He became a major celebrity, but remained humble amidst his meteoric rise.

The next step had to be chosen carefully, and Diaz waited for the right offer. He refused to join Cardiff City in 2018, and preferred Porto over Zenit in the summer of 2019, knowing that Estadio do Dragao was a superb springboard for numerous Colombian stars in the past.

Stability was important too, and having Sergio Conceicao as his only coach in Portugal has clearly helped. Conceicao is a strict disciplinarian, but he loves flair in attack and gives Diaz a free hand to improvise at will.

"The coach tells me to enjoy myself, to do what I like and to move forward, which is one of my strongest qualities. I am very grateful for his confidence," Diaz told Marca during the 2020-21 season.

The winger has most certainly improved during his time in Europe. He was a substitute for Colombia during the 2019 Copa America, but had grown into the team's best player by the time the 2021 edition came by last summer.

Diaz had a phenomenal tournament in Brazil, topping the scoring charts alongside Lionel Messi. Each of them was different, and two were of outrageous quality – an incredible overhead volley against hosts Brazil, and a long- range screamer into the top corner versus Peru.

Diaz also found the net in the 1-1 draw against Argentina in the semi-finals before Colombia lost on penalties as they fell agonisingly short of fulfilling their sacred dream.

It is evident that the 25-year-old is even more self-confident this season after such a performance. Having scored six league goals in each of his first two seasons at Porto, he has netted 14 times in 18 leagues matches this term, while also scoring in both games against AC Milan in the Champions League.

Despite that, his main focus remains on crossing and providing assists, and few left-wingers in Europe are more effective than Diaz right now.

As well as his ability, his resilience has been heralded too, and no more so was that on show than against Estoril in early January.

Porto were sensationally outplayed by the underdogs in the first half and were trailing 2-0 at the break, only for Diaz to lead a superb comeback. He started the move that led to the league leaders' first goal, scored the equaliser himself with six minutes to go, and then provided a sublime assist for teenager Chico Conceicao - the coach's son- to make it 3-2.

Will that be one of his last matches for Porto, though? The Dragons are reluctant to sell their best player in January, but there is an €80 million (£66.5m/$91m) release clause in his contract, and as he enters what should be his prime years, it could be the right time to move on.

Liverpool are just one of Europe’s elite clubs to have shown a keen interest in the Colombian, and it is only natural given his remarkable talents.

If Diaz does move to Anfield, he will not have any problems in finding a mutual language with Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota, all of whom overcame major difficulties and needed a slice of luck on their way to superstardom.

They remember where they came from, and so does Lucho, who dedicates his goals to his late grandmother, Rosaura. Liverpool fans could be about to hear a lot about her sooner rather than later.