Luis Díaz's long road from Barrancas to Liverpool


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Barrancas is a town like many others throughout Colombia. From the early hours of the early morning motorcycles and tuk-tuks dart up and down the town's high street, beeping past pedestrians and zipping around street vendors as they line up their plantain and fresh produce under the shade of mango trees to shelter from the scorching sun.

Locals cluster around monitors on the pavement and attempt their luck at a digital version of live roulette. In truth though, there is just one number that locals have their hopes on: Luis Díaz's number 23.

Liverpool's new star was formed and created on the streets of Barrancas and his mark on the town is obvious. A big mural along the high street includes the player celebrating a goal in a Colombia t-shirt, together with the expression "Barraquero pride." "It's a great pride due to the fact that we do not have any chances here, and to see your friend doing what he constantly imagined is huge," states Brayan Gómez, Díaz's youth friend and neighbour.

That very same pride appears amongst the Díaz family, which is an extremely tight-knit system. A lot of them still remain in Barrancas and reside in the player's childhood home. "You can not imagine the joy," his daddy, Luis Manuel Díaz-- who was likewise his son's very first coach-- tells The Guardian. "I feel very happy, proud and satisfied with the task that we did as a family so that Lucho could attain what he desired. This was his desire."

Nevertheless, not all in the Díaz family shared that dream. "I didn't desire him to be a football player," his mom, Cilenis Marulanda, confesses. She was stressed her son would spend excessive time out on the streets and away from his school books, and was also concerned that the little, skinny Díaz would get hurt by bigger players.

Luisfer, as his family also call him, was raised along with his grandparents, cousins and aunts in an austere home built with conventional mud and wood walls-- which were replaced by more sturdy brick and plaster walls when he was young. This was not necessarily a reflection of his family's hardship however more so a mirror of the harsh reality that numerous families throughout the northern state of La Guajira face.

The family home remains humble yet is now embellished with a big, colourful mural of the Liverpool star, featuring the badges of the clubs he has represented throughout his profession. A misspelt "Yuo'll Never Walk Alone" can be identified on the Liverpool crest, though the family are not too fussed about that. Pride abides in the Díaz home.

" Our family has actually constantly been there continuously struggling, supporting and collaborating to get ahead with that family love that characterises us. Today he is the reflection of an unified family," says Díaz's older cousin Josher Brito.

La Guajira is among the most underdeveloped and overlooked regions of Colombia. It is filled with hardship as many neighborhoods have long been cursed by drastic rates of child poor nutrition, poverty, absence of water and longstanding institutional neglect. Opportunities for a much better future are few and far in between.

" There was no belief in football here, a lot skill has been lost. There have actually been thousands like Lucho. It's extremely tough for individuals here in Barrancas to discover an escape," Brito includes.

The family's simple origins never discouraged the young Díaz, who played barefoot or in mismatched boots on the dirt pitch directly opposite the family home. It was his very first stage, and on it Díaz was frequently discovered imitating his idol Ronaldinho.

Díaz had always been a standout player growing up, shining at different local competitions his father took him to. Nevertheless, he did not get his huge break till he was 18, when his uncle took him to the open trials held by Atlético Junior, a top-flight team on the northern coast.

" Some coaches weren't persuaded because he was brief and thin," his dad recalls. "But Luis had a great deal of talent-- he could dribble, had speed and could score, too-- so some coaches took a gamble with him."

The young Díaz was amongst 3,000 players who showed up at the trials and was one of the fortunate few who secured a professional contract. Due to his age and slim build, he was drafted into Junior's reserve team, Barranquilla FC, where an under-18 side was set up to accommodate him and help him establish before taking the action to the top flight.

" It is not that he showed up malnourished however it was reasonable that due to his age and his build he showed up at the weight he did. It was our obligation as coaches to offer him the work he needed at that stage, so he was put on a gym programme and given a double consumption [of food] Roberto Peñaloza, one of his coaches at Barranquilla, informs The Guardian.

Peñaloza compares Díaz to chess masters, saying his approach to the game was constantly skillful and exhibiting self-confidence and quality. So much so, that his children asked him for a photo with the young Díaz as they were convinced he would go on to become a star.

After impressing at Barranquilla he was promoted to the first team, Atlético Junior, where he went on to win the league in one of his 2 seasons at the club. "At that time we did not picture that he would get to where he is now, however we did understand that he was a good player. When he became a regular starter we began to think of that he would be a star, however we did not picture that he would reach this moment," Peñaloza admits.

With his status as a footballing star combined, the town of Barrancas has actually discovered hope in their regional hero and follow his games carefully. Throughout Liverpool's final game of the Premier League season last weekend, many tuned in throughout the town in hopes of seeing Lucho crowned champ.

" He's a normal person who untill recently had the exact same imperfections as many in this town and is now the one who stands up for us at a national and international level, unlocking for others," says the young Luis Fernando Arzuza, sitting at his workstation in a knock-off Liverpool top.

A group of fans gather at a local bar to view the game on a big screen. Off to one side, a cluster of men quickly shift their attention to a bottle of whisky and shots are being passed around. They appear maybe more worried with having fun.

The atmosphere at Casa Díaz is considerably more tense. The family are lined up along the wall of the little living-room intently watching the game. A cutout of Díaz in his Junior days stands by the entrance.

The family canine-- named Toni Kroos-- is also among those viewing. He jumps and barks excitedly with each Liverpool goal, spinning and catching his tail in euphoria. Belief is high in the family. "It's still possible," a relative says as the clock unwind and Liverpool's chances to secure the title slowly slip away.

They are all passionately engaged in the game other than for his grandad, Jacob, who is sitting outdoors in the garden sewing and fixing some trousers under the shade of a tree.This weekend Díaz will play in his greatest game yet, facing Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Paris. The Barrancas local will be playing in front of more than 80,000 individuals, more than twice the population of his home town.

" Lucho is extremely simple, and that's what I most like about him and it's what makes him great," states Arzuza Cueto. "He knows where his roots are and he's always remembered them. He's my idol."

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