Jurgen Klopp says he’s never known a footballer to smile so much, and no wonder.
Because Luis Diaz’s start to life at Liverpool could hardly have gone better.
Having struck gold with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, and having gambled successfully on Diogo Jota, they appear to have gone and found themselves another attacking gem in the transfer market.
The deal which brought the Colombian to Anfield could end up costing the Reds more than £50 million ($65m), but that could well prove to be a bargain if Diaz continues like he has begun.
“We knew he would fit in immediately,” says Klopp, but even he has been surprised by the way the 25-year-old has gone about his business on Merseyside.
“You don’t expect miracles,” the Reds boss adds, “but he is not far away from doing exactly that.”
Diaz already has his first winners' medal, one he helped secure with a star performance in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea in February, and on Saturday he will return to Wembley as Liverpool take on Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup.
Before that, mind you, is the small matter of a Champions League quarter-final second leg against Benfica at Anfield. Diaz, as an ex-Porto man, will be extra motivated for that one.
He certainly was last week at Estadio da Luz, when his late goal capped a man of the match display, and gave the Reds a 3-1 advantage to take back to England.
“Outstanding,” was Klopp’s verdict, Diaz having silenced the fans who had booed him throughout the 90 minutes.
The manner in which he took his goal, latching onto Naby Keita’s through ball, rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home left-footed, told of a player brimming with confidence, at ease with both himself and the team he has joined.
“He looks like he’s been here for years,” the former Liverpool winger Stewart Downing told GOAL recently.
Downing, who cost the Reds £20m ($26m) when joining from Aston Villa in 2011, went on to compare Diaz to Luis Suarez, in terms of the way he has embraced the competitiveness and physicality of English football.
That’s high praise indeed, and of course if Diaz can have anything like the impact Suarez had at Anfield, then Liverpool will be laughing.
The Uruguayan may not have won much, and he certainly attracted bad headlines as well as good ones, but he became one of the best players in the world during his three-and-a-half years on Merseyside. That example has since been followed by the likes of Mane and Salah.
Could Diaz scale similar heights? He is viewed as the long-term successor to Mane down the left flank, a player of speed and skill who has the talent, work ethic and attitude to flourish under Klopp’s guidance.
He certainly plays like a man determined to make the most of his big opportunity.Getty
“I never saw a player who enjoys training so much!” said Klopp at his pre-Benfica press conference on Tuesday. That enthusiasm, he said, has had only a positive effect on the players who were already there.
It used to be said that breaking into Liverpool’s front three was an impossible task, but both Diaz and Jota have shown that it can be done.
Jota started ahead of Roberto Firmino in Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash at the Etihad, and it would be no surprise if Diaz was to get the nod at Wembley this weekend.
“They’ve backed themselves,” says Downing, “and fair play to them for that. In the past we’d look at Mane, Salah and Firmino and think: ‘They’re not getting moved.' But now it’s three from five or six, isn’t it?”
Whichever combination Klopp chooses, he need not worry. For the first time, he has five top-class forwards at his disposal, with the option to rest and rotate without compromising his team’s chances.
That will be crucial as Liverpool’s season reaches crunch time. Incredibly, given we are in the second week of April, the Reds could have as many as 13 games remaining across three competitions.
Juggling resources, and successfully maintaining freshness and energy levels, could prove the difference between success and failure.
Diaz, then, can expect plenty of chances to prove his worth in the coming weeks. He’s a star of the future, for sure, but the here and now is pretty exciting too.
Not for the first time, Klopp owes a big thanks to his scouting and recruitment team.