Liverpool’s Diaz from indigenous community that breeds ‘toughness’

Liverpool’s Diaz from indigenous community that breeds ‘toughness’

Liverpool’s Diaz from indigenous community that breeds ‘toughness’

Colombian Luis Diaz (L). Credits: AFP

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A young indigenous Colombian began kicking a ball more than 20 years ago while running around barefoot in a dust bowl of a pitch. Luis Diaz, the child, is now on the verge of becoming Europe’s champion with Liverpool.

Everyone remembers how the timid “Luisfer” would never tyre in Barrancas, where the Wayuu indigenous community makes up over half of the population.

The newest Liverpool star rose from the deserts of northern La Guajira, which borders the Caribbean Sea to the northwest and Venezuela to the southeast, to become a national sensation.

Diaz, whose father Luis Manuel was a coach at the town’s only football school, stood out for his speed, toughness, and ability to weave around opponents with the ball at his feet from a young age.

Diaz has dominated English football in just four months since joining Liverpool for an initial fee of 45 million euros ($48.1 million) from Porto in Portugal.

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He has already helped his new club win the League Cup, FA Cup, and reach the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday, scoring six goals in 25 appearances for the Reds.

The winger’s success, according to his uncle Yelkis Diaz, is due to his indigenous Wayuu “custom.”

The impoverished community’s “transport is walking, jogging … running,” he told AFP.

 

‘Almost impossible’ conditions

Diaz’s family and friends thousands of miles away in England cheer him on whenever he gallops down the wing for Liverpool.

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It’s the first time an indigenous Colombian has made it to the top of the sport in a country where the majority of the country’s athletes are from the Afro-Colombian community on the Pacific coast and the indigenous population accounts for only 4.4 percent of the country’s 50 million people.

Barrancas’ young population have few options besides working for multinationals exploiting the nearby El Cerrejon coal mine, Latin America’s largest open-air coal mine.

The dreamers picture themselves playing football or performing traditional Vallenato folk music.

Diaz would frequently come onto the town pitch in his bare feet, wearing the Barrio Lleras jersey that his father used to wear.

According to his uncle, playing in “nearly impossible” conditions honed his talent.

“Running and managing a ball in an environment with stones, holes, and earth” is difficult, and many people have given up on their desire.

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With more than two-thirds of the people living in poverty, La Guajira is Colombia’s poorest department.

According to the leading indigenous organization, more than 5,000 children have died of hunger in the last decade.

Diaz removes his shoes when he returns home for a sentimental feel of his own land.

Following his spectacular participation at the Copa America, in which he ended as joint top goalscorer alongside worldwide superstar Lionel Messi, he returned home in July 2021, greeted by the entire community.

Diaz remarked in a recent interview that his style of play reflects “my upbringing, where I grew up.”

 

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The Wayuu James

The Wayuu village competed in Colombia’s first indigenous football tournament in 2015.

Carlos Valderrama, a Colombian legend, was in the stands scouting talent for an indigenous team that would represent Colombia in continental competition in Chile.

Diaz and his best friend, offensive midfielder Daniel Bolivar, made the team and would be its stars.

“In these villages so lost to sport,” impressing Valderrama “was something that really motivated us,” said Bolivar.

Bolivar, who was once compared to Colombian superstar James Rodriguez, chose not to follow in Diaz’s footsteps and currently works as a machinery operator in El Cerrejon.

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The local authorities in Barrancas began installing synthetic pitches as a result of Diaz’s success. In this parched landscape, where running water is only accessible three days a week, grass pitches are impossible.

Diaz’s profile has drawn the attention of scouts looking for the next “star” to emerge from the La Guajira peninsula.

Before Diaz, the region’s biggest star was Arnoldo Iguaran, a player who began his career in the late 1970s and ended in the 1990s as Colombia’s all-time leading goalscorer until Radamel Falcao passed him in 2015.

The president of FC La Guajira, John Angarita, has welcomed indigenous youth from Barrancas, claiming that their “physical tenacity” helps them to run the entire game without tiring.

His football school comprises 70 students, some of whom are from families who have been uprooted by Colombia’s unending 50-year conflict, and who aspire to follow in Diaz’s footsteps.

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