Luis Diaz is a Liverpool star who should never have been

Liverpool, England – Luis Diaz grabs his forearm and puts his finger on his wrist, as if playing his own pulse. It does this without interrupting eye contact, without stopping breathing. He does not seem to notice that he is doing this. This is a reflexive, unconscious movement, the best way to demonstrate what it means.

According to him, Diaz does not speak Vaiu, the language of Colombia’s indigenous community, from which he can trace his roots. He neither wears traditional clothes nor keeps any customs. Life has taken him far from La Guajira, a fissure of land that borders the Caribbean on one side and the homeland of Vayu, Venezuela on the other.

It is at this time that the finger traces the veins, feeling the heart beat. “I feel Wayúu,” he says. He may not be – in his own estimation – a “pure” wow, but that does not matter. “This is my origin, my origin,” he said. “This is who I am.”

As Diaz has become a star in the last five years – he broke into Atletico Jr., one of Colombia’s biggest teams; Going to Europe with FC Porto; Liverpool’s trip to the Champions League final after joining in January – his story has been told and retold so often that even Diaz now admits he welcomes the chance to “clear up” a few details.

Some of them were blurred and distorted by what Juan Pablo Gutierrez, a human rights activist who first met Diaz at the age of 18, described as a desire to “take on a romantic history and be even more romantic.” For example, the great Colombian midfielder Carlos Valderrama is often attributed to the “discovery” of Diaz. “This is not true,” Gutierrez said.

And then there is the tendency towards what Gutierrez calls “opportunism.” Numerous former coaches, teammates and acquaintances in the news media – first in Colombia, then in Latin America and finally throughout Europe – offered memories of the 25-year-old forward. “There are a lot of people who may have met him a few days ago who are enjoying the light he conveys,” Gutierrez said.

Nevertheless, the wide arc of his journey is familiar in both senses. Diaz had a privileged upbringing in the most vulnerable part of Colombia. As a teenager, he had to leave home and travel by bus for six hours, training with a professional team. He was so thin at the time that John Jairo Diaz, one of his first coaches, nicknamed him “Noodle.” His first club, which thought he was suffering from malnutrition, put him on a special diet to help him lose weight.

While its contours may be a little more extreme, this story is not at all different from the experiences of many of Diaz’s peers, the vast majority of whom suffered hardships and made remarkable sacrifices on the way to the summit.

However, what distinguishes Diaz’s history and what makes it particularly important is where it started. Diaz is not familiar with other Wayuu players. “Not now, at least not those who are professionals,” he said.

There is a reason for this. Scouts often do not go to La Guajira to look for players. Colombian clubs typically do not spend resources searching for future stars among the country’s indigenous communities. This is what gives the diaspora history its power. This is not just a story about how he managed it. It’s also a story about why not so many others are doing it.

As far as Gutierrez was concerned, Luis Diaz was not only the best player in the tournament, he was not even the best player on his team. Instead, that honor fell to Diaz’s friend, Daniel Bolivar, the inventor, the blinking playmaker. “Luis was more pragmatic,” Gutierrez said. “Daniel was a fantasy.”

In 2014, the organization Gutierrez is working, ONIC – the official representative group of the indigenous people of Colombia – organized a national football tournament designed to unite different ethnic groups in the country.

“We saw that what they all had in common, from the Amazon basin to the Andes, was that they spent their free time playing football,” Gutierrez said. “Some played with boots, some barefoot. Some played with a real ball, some with a ball made of nag. But they were all playing. ”

The event was the first of its kind, an awkward and difficult logistics affair – a trip alone can take several days – which was uncertain for a year. His goal, Gutierrez said, was “to demonstrate the talent that these societies have, to show that everything they lack is an opportunity.”

The message was intended to be voiced beyond sports. “It was also a social and political issue,” Gutierrez said. “The word ‘Indian’ is an insult to Colombia. Indigenous groups are called primitive, dirty, wild. There is a long legacy of colonialism, a deep superstition. “The tournament was a show that they are more than just folklore, more than ‘exotic’, more than a headscarf and paint.”

By the time the final – which took place in the capital Bogota – came, Gutierrez was involved in another project. In 2015, when Chile is scheduled to host the Copa America, a parallel championship was held to celebrate the continent’s indigenous groups. The Colombian team consisted of the best players from the national tournament.

The team from La Guajira, which represents the Vayuu community and features Diaz and Bolivar, advanced to the finals and two of its outstanding players were selected to be included in the national team. He was coached by John Jairo Diaz, Valderama, known throughout Colombia only as El Pibe, as Technical Director.

Valderrama’s participation meant a lot to Luis Diaz. “The fact that he saw me play and I liked it is wonderful,” he said. “I did not know him at all, but I was very proud. It is a reference point for all Colombian football. It was a source of great pride that Pibe Valderrama might have chosen me on the team.

However, Valderrama was not as practical as was often presented (a misconception he did not want to correct). “He was an ambassador,” Gutierrez said. “We knew that where Pibe was going, 50,000 cameras would follow. It was a way to make sure our message was heard. “

Diaz shone in the tournament and played so well that Gutierrez took at least one approach from the Peruvian club to try to sign him. It will be a watershed. According to Diaz, there were many good players in this team. “The problem was that some of them were a little older, so it was difficult to become a professional,” he said. He would be an exception.

Valderrama’s approval ring, as well as tournament coverage, led the news media to move to Barranquilla FC, the farm team for the juniors – the first step on the road to the elite, to Europe, to Liverpool. This was the beginning of Diaz’s history.

And yet, as Gutierrez points out, laughing Diaz was no exception. “He was not the best player in that tournament,” he said. “He was not the best player on his team.” By common consensus, it was Bolivar.

The history of Bolivar is not as well known as the story of Diaz. After all, it does not have an exciting ending: Bolivar now operates in Cereson, South America’s largest coal mine, back in La Guajira.

But its history is far more characteristic of Colombia’s indigenous communities: not of a gift discovered and brought up, but of a lost talent. “There is no reason he will not be able to play for Real Madrid,” Gutierrez told Bolivar. “He did not lack ability. He did not have the opportunity. “

Despite all the challenges he faced in overcoming obstacles, Diaz knows he was one of the lucky ones. His father, Luis Manuel, was a talented amateur player in Barancas, the family hometown; Diaz still smiles at the recollection of how good his father was. “It’s really good,” he wrote in his assessment.

By the time Diaz was a child, his father ran a football school – La Escuelita, as everyone called it – and could have given his son a more structured sports education than he did. “You could see he was a little more professional even then,” Gutierrez said. “He was a little more advanced and the credit for that goes to his father.”

His father’s loyalty to his career made a difference, which turned Diaz into one: he not only helped him train, but his decision to run a football school meant that his son had to play in competitions. This allowed him to gain a place. For Wayúu’s indigenous championship as a 17-year-old, which positioned him to earn a place on the national team a year later, which led to his transition to professional play.

Not everyone can, of course, benefit from this constellation of factors. “There is no support in these regions,” Diaz said. “There are a lot of good players there, but it ‘s hard for people to go, take that step and follow their dreams. They can not go for money, or for family reasons. And that means we’re losing a lot of talented players.”

Gutierrez hopes that Diaz will be the antidote to this pattern. “For a long time, it was always thought that indigenous people did not exist,” he said. “This is the legacy of colonialism: that they are not seen, or just something exotic, something seen from folklore.”

“Diaz’s presence on the biggest stage of football – he could become the first Colombian to play in Saturday and win the Champions League final – is the way to ‘deconstruct’ this image,” Gutierrez said. “This is a society that is in imminent danger of extinction,” he said. “And now, because of Lucho, he is in the light of the world cameras. He is sending a message that his community cannot. “

Diaz’s mind has no doubt where he comes from, who he represents. He does not speak the language, but it is the blood in his veins, his heartbeat. Diaz is an exception, a talent that was found when all the rest were lost. His hope, Gutierrez’s hope, is that he will not be left alone for long.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.