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new diamond The making of Luis Diaz: How Liverpool's new boy so nearly slipped through the football net

In many respects, Diaz’s story has echoes of a young Lionel Messi, whose physical deficiencies as a junior player in Argentina threatened to end his ambitions.

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Liverpool's Luis Diaz during a training session at the AXA Training Centre, Liverpool. Picture date: Monday March 7, 2022. PA Photo

Liverpool's Luis Diaz during a training session at the AXA Training Centre, Liverpool. Picture date: Monday March 7, 2022. PA Photo

Liverpool's Luis Diaz during a training session at the AXA Training Centre, Liverpool. Picture date: Monday March 7, 2022. PA Photo

LUIS DIAZ’s dream of football stardom was in danger of falling at the first hurdle.

As the frail 18-year-old tried and failed to attract the attention of high-profile scouts, his mesmeric dribbling skills looked destined to remain undiscovered in a Colombian homeland that was a million miles away from his new home as one of Jurgen Klopp’s star names at Liverpool.

Yet this scrawny kid was too good to slip through the net and he has found his own way to the top.

A traditional path has long been mapped out for South American wonder kids, with European clubs vying for their services and planting them in a lavishly funded Academy set-up that paves the way for a professional career.

This was not the path Diaz would follow, as his fragile frame led most seasoned observers to conclude he would lack the physical requirements to make his mark at an elite club.

In many respects, Diaz’s story has echoes of a young Lionel Messi, whose physical deficiencies as a junior player in Argentina threatened to end his ambitions.

Yet talent always finds a way to rise to the top and so it proved with Diaz, who was not even attached to a professional club at the age of 18 and was only propelled into the spotlight due to an improbable chain of fortunate breaks.

Diaz hails from La Guajira in Colombia, a deprived region lacking any kind of substantial government funding since its coal mining industry slipped into decline.

This is not a traditional hotspot for football heroes to emerge, but Diaz caught the eye at a trial featuring upwards of 3,000 kids staged by the Atletico Junior club back in 2015.

It proved to be his breakthrough moment, as scout Juan Carlos Cantillo encouraged the club to sign Diaz and try to build him into a player who could realise all his potential.

Then came a second defining moment, as he caught the eye of the panel selecting a squad for the first Copa America of Indigenous Peoples in Chile in July 2015, where he worked under coach Carlos Valderama.

You will remember Valderama as the frizzly-haired superstar who caught the eye at the 1994 World Cup in America, with his star quality oozing out of his every pour.

By contrast, Diaz lacked that self-confidence and needed help to realise his potential and Valderama ensured his talents would remain secret no longer as he compared him to Messi.

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An endorsement from a star name is often crucial in propelling the career of young players once Valderama become Diaz’s high-profile cheerleader, his rise was unstoppable.

With much of the strength and conditioning work required to develop a young player tending to be put in during their mid-teens, coaches at Diaz’s first senior club Atlético Junior had doubts over whether they could build him into a first team star.

Yet Diaz’s talent and desperation to reach the top of the game quickly banished those questions, with his breakthrough season coming in 2018, with Porto’s network of contacts in South American ensuring they won the race for his signature in 2019.

By then, Diaz was ready for the big time and he hit the ground running in Portugal, with his form in the first half of this season confirming his status as one of the brightest talents in the European game.

Liverpool considered a move for Diaz last year and he was a top transfer target for this coming summer’s transfer window, but the Anfield club had to shift that timeline forward as Tottenham closed in on a deal for the 25-year-old in January.

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Liverpool's Luis Diaz in action REUTERS/Phil Noble

Liverpool's Luis Diaz in action REUTERS/Phil Noble

Liverpool's Luis Diaz in action REUTERS/Phil Noble

While Klopp tends to give players time to settle into his team at Liverpool, Diaz has made an instant impact in one of the most powerful forward lines in European football and get won his first trophy with the club after a fine display in last month's EFL Cup final against Chelsea.

“What he has done in his first few weeks here has been amazing, honestly I have not seen many players come in and do this from the start,” said Klopp of Diaz, who cost Liverpool an initial £37million to sign from Porto.

“He looks at home already. That is exactly the impression he made in training and then he plays and ‘wow‘.

“When we saw him play for Porto we thought that is exactly what we want him to do as well. On top of that he looks like a really smart football player and has obviously watched Liverpool a lot. What we didn’t expect was for him to have this much of an impact so quickly.

“Coming to England, to the Premier League is not easy, but Luis looks like he has always been here. That is amazing, it really is.”

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were the first names on Klopp’s team-sheet as they lifted the Champions League and Premier League titles, but Diaz and Diogo Jota have ensured that a succession plan is now in place when those three legends depart.

Resting Salah, Mane or Firmino for a game or two was hard to contemplate in big games until his latest signings added much-needed depth to his forward line, giving him the option to start without his star trio for games like Tuesday night’s Champions League second leg against Inter Milan at Anfield.

With Liverpool 2-0 ahead from the first leg at the San Siro, this is a tie that appears to be all-but over ahead of a night at Anfield and now the focus is on the next phase of Klopp's mission to try and achieve the impossible - winning a quadruple of trophies this season.

Even dreaming about such a feat is a tribute to Klopp's brilliance as while Liverpool have been linked with like Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé over the last couple of years, that is not the kind of deal the Anfield club have the finances to consider.

Instead, Klopp and his transfer committee have to identify cut-price gems that are waiting to sparkle and in Diaz, they appear to have unearthed another sparkling diamond.

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