Inside Luis Diaz’s first days at Liverpool: Scars, smiles and Spurs left sickened

Luis Diaz Liverpool 2021Getty

It was around lunchtime last Friday that Luis Diaz finally touched down on Merseyside.

“It’s cold, huh?” smiled the Colombian after stepping off a private plane at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Better get used to that, Luis. It is February and this is England, after all.

It had already been quite the week for Liverpool’s new £50 million ($67m) signing. He had played in two games, taken five separate flights and visited four different countries.

But at the end of it all, he was grinning from ear to ear, and who could blame him?

“Let’s get started!” beamed Diaz having completed his first round of media duties as a Reds player. Less than 48 hours later, he was emerging to a hero’s reception at Anfield, needing just 11 minutes to lay on a goal on his debut, a 3-1 FA Cup win over Cardiff City.

There was even time to throw in an injury scare for good measure. “A bruise and a cut,” Jurgen Klopp confirmed after Diaz’s brush with the studs of Cardiff defender Aden Flint. “Welcome to England!” his new team-mates told him.

Luis Diaz Jurgen Klopp Liverpool GFXGetty/GOAL

On Thursday he could make his Premier League bow against Leicester City, as Liverpool look to hunt down leaders Manchester City.

There is a Champions League last-16 clash against Inter to come next week, and a Carabao Cup final at Wembley later in the month. No time to relax for the new-boy. For anyone.

This, then, is the story of Diaz’s move to Anfield, and of his first days as a Liverpool player…

An opportunity too good to miss

It was on Tuesday January 25 that Liverpool made their move for Diaz.

The Reds, to that point, had been expected to keep their powder dry in the January window, resisting the urge to move even when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita headed off to the Africa Cup of Nations early in the month.

Diaz was high on their list of targets, viewed as a player of considerable talent and big potential, one experienced enough to cope, yet raw enough to be moulded and improved under Klopp.

Luis Diaz Porto GFXGetty/GOAL

His performances with Porto, and with Colombia, had been watched closely, and a summer move was planned, even though Porto’s initial asking price of around £65m ($88m) was dismissed as unreasonable.

The landscape changed quickly as January progressed, though. Tottenham’s interest in Diaz brought Porto to the negotiating table, and word reached Liverpool that not only would the Portuguese league leaders - whose financial difficulties have been exacerbated by their early elimination from the Champions League - be willing to do business for a far more reasonable fee, but that the player himself would prefer to move to Merseyside over London.

Julian Ward, who will take over as the Reds’ sporting director in the summer, led the negotiations. Ward, currently second-in-command to Michael Edwards, has strong Portuguese and South American connections, and over the course of two-and-a-half days was able to thrash out a deal which will see Liverpool pay an initial £37.5m ($51m), with a further £12.5m ($17m) due if a series of performance-related add-ons are met.

Disappointment for Spurs, who believed they had an agreement with both Porto and with Diaz. Tottenham sources claim their deal was scuppered by the player’s representative, Carlos van Strahalen, who was said to be unamused by the presence of Jorge Mendes, the renowned ‘super-agent’ around the transfer.

“It’s a good job they’re not still doing their Amazon documentary,” said one source familiar with the deal.

So while Daniel Levy and Antonio Conte, reluctantly, turned to Dejan Kulusevski, Liverpool pressed on with the Diaz deal. By the Thursday, January 27, they were in pole position.

A race against time

Once the deal had been agreed with Porto, the next step was to complete the formalities and the necessary paperwork - not an easy task, with Diaz away on international duty with Colombia.

A Zoom call was arranged between Ward, Klopp (who was away on holiday), Diaz and his representatives, Van Strahalen and Raul Pais da Costa, on the Thursday before the window closed.

The following day, Liverpool arranged for Jim Moxon, the club doctor, and David Woodfine, the head of loan pathways and football partnerships, to fly to Cordoba, where Diaz would be arriving that weekend, in preparation for a medical.

Diaz played 90 minutes as Colombia lost 1-0 to Peru in Barranquilla on Friday evening, and the next day he met with the Liverpool delegation.

Luis Diaz Colombia GFXGetty/GOAL

Gonzalo Siegrist, the Reds’ Buenos Aires-based scout, arranged the medical. Siegrist’s father is a doctor, and Liverpool were able to utilise his contacts to book out a local clinic in Cordoba on the Saturday and Sunday.

There were no hiccups - Diaz’s fitness record has been excellent during his time at Porto - and Liverpool were able to announce the completion of the deal at 12pm GMT on Sunday.

Diaz, smiling, was pictured in his Reds training kit, having signed a five-and-a-half year contract.

“I could not be happier,” Klopp told the club’s official website. Diaz, he said, was “the player we really wanted…we believe [he] will make us better now and in the future.”

He thanked the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, and the football operations team, led by Ward, for their decisiveness in acting so swiftly, and praised the Colombian FA for allowing the player “a few hours” away from the camp in order to complete the deal.

The final hurdle

Even after Diaz was pictured in his Liverpool kit, there was still a bit of work to be done.

As the Reds tried, in vain, to complete the signing of Fabio Carvalho from Fulham on deadline day, Diaz was in action again for Colombia, who suffered a defeat against Argentina which left their World Cup qualification hopes in tatters.

After that game in Cordoba, it was decided that Diaz and his family would fly to Paris, where they would await their UK visa.

Liverpool’s football administration team, Jonathan Bamber and Preston Jones, made the necessary arrangements. Diaz’s girlfriend, Gera Ponce, posted a picture to Instagram of the two with the Eiffel Tower in the background. “Blackpool is looking great!” posted one quick-witted Reds fan in reply.

There were to be no issues securing the work permit. Diaz is an established international, with 31 caps for Colombia and more than 100 games for Porto over the past three seasons, and by Friday he was heading to the UK, ready to start his latest adventure.

Settling in nicely

After landing in Liverpool, Diaz was whisked straight to the club’s training ground at Kirkby, his journey captured by the LFCTV, the club’s official television channel.

Andy Robertson was the first to greet him at the AXA Training Centre, before a smiling Klopp emerged at the top of the stairs. “Hi Mister, how are you?” grinned Diaz, who was soon delighted to learn that Pep Lijnders, Klopp’s assistant, is a Portuguese speaker.

There was an embrace with Virgil van Dijk in the corridor. “He’s so big!” remarked Diaz, and introductions to the rest of his new team-mates followed in the dressing room.

Then, a quick change and off he went with Andreas Kornmayer, the head of fitness and conditioning, for some stretching and activation, a light run and then, finally, a few minutes of ball work outside.

Then came the media duties. Diaz, accompanied by his girlfriend and young daughter, smiled as he ran through the various requests. “Next time in English?” he was asked. “Give me a few weeks… a week and a half!” came the reply.

He will wear the No.23 jersey at Anfield, a shirt made famous by legends such as Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher, and one most recently worn by Xherdan Shaqiri.

Having trained with the team on Saturday, it was decided by Klopp that he would feature against Cardiff. His debut arrived on 57 minutes, just after Diogo Jota had given the Reds the lead. He replaced Curtis Jones to a standing ovation, emerging at the same time as Harvey Elliott, who was making his long-awaited return from injury.

Soon after came his first big contribution, harrying Perry Ng into a mistake inside his own area, keeping the ball in play on the byline and setting up Takumi Minamino in front of the Kop. A touch off Jota means he won’t be officially credited with the assist by Opta, but that does not matter; the goal was his creation, no doubt about it.

The later collision with Flint had Anfield holding its collective breath. Surely not, we wondered, as Diaz landed awkwardly after contesting a header and reached for his knee.

No panic; a bit of treatment from Moxon and Chris Morgan, the physio, and he was back on his feet and back in the thick of things. “He has his first scar,” remarked Klopp in his post-match press conference.

He will get used to that, one suspects, and privately Liverpool were delighted with how willing he was to get involved in the physical side of things against Cardiff. It may only have been a 33-minute cameo, but it was an encouraging one nonetheless.

The bigger challenges are to come, of course. Liverpool are in the mix for four trophies, and Diaz should get plenty of opportunities to show his skills in the coming weeks.

Plenty of opportunities to show why the Reds just had to have him.