Luis Díaz, total delight – Then24

“Everyone knows how to cook. » Here’s how the starred chef Gusteau persuaded Rémy to leave the sewers of the capital to flourish in the restaurant of his idol. Far from the wine cellars and food reserves of Ratatouille, the story of Luis Díaz could undoubtedly reach the top of the box office in turn if a director decides to put it in pictures. The parallel with a Disney film is not absurd as the trajectory of the new Liverpool player is surreal. Hit hard by malnutrition at birth, the native of Barrancas was able to find a way to climb the ladder of Colombian football in one of the regions of the world most affected by the humanitarian crisis: La Guajira. And further proof that a round ball can definitely save lives.

“The government is sending bags containing twenty days’ worth of meals to the most affected families. But that’s only for kids. And often the parents dig into the bags for food. Finally, there is nothing left in the bag after eight days. » César Arismendi, member of FUNCAI

Hunger justifies the means

“Luis Díaz comes from an extremely precarious family, who had to fight every day to survive. If everything was fine, they had two meals a day. In this region, it’s something normal ” testifies John “Pocillo” Diaz, one of the very first coaches of the winger of the Reds. La Guajira is located in northern Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, and is a territory of the Wayuu community, but also one of the areas most neglected by the Colombian government. The proof is: between 2008 and 2016, 4,770 children lost their lives there. Many non-governmental organizations have been fighting for more than ten years on the spot and are trying to find solutions to combat these deadly deficiencies. Among them, FUNCAI, Fundacion Caminos de Identidadis closer to vulnerable populations. “This region and its people are in very great danger with every passing day. Due to the great drought and the impossibility of producing anything, La Guajira is seriously affected by the food crisis” decrypts César Arismendi, member of the NGO.

Without water, rain and food, the Wayuu seek at all costs to survive the arid desert and extreme poverty. It was in Barrancas, the seventh most populated town in La Guajira, that Luis Díaz was born. Born of a Wayuu father and mother, the Colombian international (33 caps) was quickly caught up in reality. “Among these 5,000 dead children, there is not only malnutrition. There is also infant mortality, children who died before they were even born, others who are considerably affected by flu-like illnesses, infections caused by animals…” , adds Caesar. Despite a few pounds lighter, Luis Díaz is one of the lucky ones who grew up in a house, not far from the deserts, “where the situation is catastrophic” declares the member of FUNCAI, before assuring that state aid for city dwellers is far from sufficient: “The Colombian government sends bags with the equivalent of twenty days of meals to the most affected families, except that it is only intended for children. The parents therefore often dip into the bags for food. Finally, there is nothing left in the bag after eight days. »

happy new year noodles

It is in this chaotic context that Luis Díaz ends up crossing paths with football just outside his home. César Arismendi explains: “The Wayuu have a strong attraction to football, a sport they practice easily by assembling rags to form a ball and placing stones to score goals. All this, barefoot. » “Luis’ father quickly trained himcontinues John “Pocillo” Diaz. Every day he taught her technical and mental things. His father is a very big football fan and even runs a football school in Barrancas, which he himself created 25 years ago. » His inner goal? Make his son the best player in school and introduce him to the recruiters of one of the biggest clubs in the region: Barranquilla FC, located 330 kilometers from the family home.

“As soon as we saw him play, the magic appeared. But there was one problem: it was a noodle. » Fernel Díaz, assistant director of the Barranquilla FC training center

That day comes in January 2015. The rest is told by Fernel Díaz, the coordinator and deputy director of the training center of the Colombian second division team: “Luis arrived at detection with his father and other players from his club. As soon as we saw him play, the magic appeared. But there was a problem: it was a “noodle”. Normally , the players go home after a day of testing. He stayed for twenty days, until we decided to keep him and he joined our academy.” Happy to see his son getting closer to the professional world, Luis Díaz’s father grimaces when he learns that his jewel will run out of playing time in Barranquilla. “Among the young people, we had two categories: the U17s and the U20s.explains Fernel Díaz. He still lacked certain qualities to be with the U20s, but he had to have playing time. So we created a tournament with the U18s of the region, almost for him, but it only lasted a few months. . . » Another solution is found: with the agreement of his club, the young Wayuu, then 18 years old, decides to go on an adventure with the indigenous selection of Colombia.

Yes, this selection exists, brings together all the indigenous communities of the country and is led by the illustrious Carlos Valderrama. To fill its ranks, the top four teams from each region are all brought to Bogota for extensive scouting and a series of tests. Little prince of La Guajira, Luis Díaz is then preparing to take the fifteen minutes by bus which could allow him to add his name to the list of 24 players selected to leave for Chile in the summer of 2015. “Luis’ father had no money. He organized sorts of raffles and helped the merchants of the small markets to take sixteen children to the selection. , replays John “Pocillo” Díaz. On site, nearly 400 candidates massed with the ambition to snatch a golden ticket. To decide between them, exercises, basic and complex, are set up on one of the fields of the Colombian capital. John “Pocillo” Díaz, Valderrama’s assistant for the occasion, completes: “We looked at them all and chose them for their physical condition and their attitude. We discussed at length with Valderrama their possible position on the pitch, what they could bring collectively and individually… There was nothing to do: the first of all exercises was Luis. We were impressed. With Carlos, we found it striking to see a young player without skin on his bones playing so well. » Obviously, a month later, Luis Díaz is among the 24 elected along with five other of his teammates. The Wayuu ethnic group was then the most represented in the selection, but it is another image that has remained in everyone’s mind: the arrival at the training course, organized in Bogota, of the young Luis, “in shorts and shirt” . “It was cold, so we immediately went to buy him shoes and clothes to cover up” , John “Pocillo” Díaz smiled again. The adventure can begin.

“When he had the opportunity to get on such a big plane, to have professional football menus and to be able to recharge his batteries, to be in a five-star hotel, to share all his days with his teammates in gatherings He went completely crazy.” Jeans

Pasta from hell

Eagerly awaited during this Copa América of indigenous peoples, the case of Luis Díaz works his coaches: because of his malnutrition, the young prodigy, yet steeped in talent, lacks the strength to lift the ball and strike. It is also the nugget’s first major tournament, which brings several issues to the table. “We immediately saw that he lacked benchmarks. When we put him on the attack, he was very fast and went straight without raising his head. He was dribbling everyone, but it happened that he crossed the whole field and passed the goal line, forgetting to shoot” , laughs John “Pocillo” Díaz. The child has no choice: he must reach a reasonable weight. The medical team of the selection therefore offers him a special diet. For twenty days, the player will send himself five daily meals, including a large amount of pasta, but also a lot of protein. In one month, Luis Díaz will then gain four kilos which will have direct consequences: now, the attacker can shoot harder and take more shocks. Thus, Carlos Valderrama will establish the player on the left wing of his attack, where the small format, second top scorer of the tournament, will make the opposing defenders dizzy and carry his selection to a final lost against Paraguay. Nothing will be like before: the young Luis returns home fulfilled, happy, nourished. John “Pocillo” Díaz concludes: “When he had the opportunity to get on such a big plane, to have professional football menus and to be able to recharge his batteries, to be in a five-star hotel, to share all his days with his teammates in gatherings “He went absolutely crazy. All those things made him the player he is today.”

Back in Barranquilla, Luis Díaz finally joins his club’s U20s and will even taste a few appearances with the first team. Always followed by nutritionists, it will especially thicken and completely explode in the second Colombian division. With Valderrama’s backing, the pledge will see Barranquilla-affiliated Premier League club Atlético Junior gift him a golden bridge. Balance sheet: two seasons, 20 goals, seven assists, and quickly many European clubs (Zénith, Cardiff and Porto) on the Basques. Chaired by the mayor of Barranquilla, Alejandro Char, now a presidential candidate, Atlético Junior will initially retain the player, in particular via Alejandro Char who would have offered Luis Díaz a big engine, a new house and the number 10 True or false? However, on January 14, 2019, Luis Díaz extended for three years with… a new number on the back.

At the mention of these gifts, Fernel Diaz, who was then the technical assistant of the first division club, hung up. If the Colombian media have always assured that Luis Díaz had refused nothing, the player has never confirmed the information. The rest is more important: arrived at FC Porto in the summer of 2019 against a check for seven million euros, the former noodle confirmed in Europe, won his first titles with the Dragons, scratched his first international capes, finished in the standard team of the last Copa America and therefore joined Liverpool this winter for 45 million euros excluding bonuses. Extraordinary. “I would like that now, like his new team-mate Sadio Mané does with Senegal, Luis Díaz repeats this pattern and invests in his village to improve the living conditions of his people” , says César Arismendi. Luis Díaz has already answered his call, since the clay court of his childhood will soon be covered with a beautiful green lawn. Step by step, the Colombian has not forgotten where he comes from, even if he now lives in the beautiful districts of Merseyside, 4859 kilometers from his hometown, and with 67 kilos on the scale.

By Matthieu Darbas, with Anna Carreau
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