DEALS that appear to come from nowhere only to be completed in the hours before a transfer window closes – especially in January – tend to give the impression of panic on behalf of the buying club.
This is certainly not the case with Liverpool’s £37.5m capture of Luis Diaz.
The Colombian winger’s switch from Porto – which could end up costing the Reds £50m if conditional add-ons are triggered – was sealed on 30 January, but his signing is in keeping with the strategy of long-term planning and value maximisation that has been the hallmark of most of Liverpool’s business in recent years.
As demonstrated by his scoring display in just his second Premier League outing, a 3-1 victory over Norwich on Sunday, Diaz’s arrival is instantaneously impactful. His presence augments the quality attacking options at manager Jurgen Klopp’s disposal and will aid the club’s pursuit of league leaders Manchester City.
But there is a clear plan in place to have Diaz form a key part of a refreshed Anfield frontline, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all the wrong side of 30 by the start of next season.
'OUTSTANDING talent!' 🗣️
Jurgen Klopp is in no doubt about new signing Luis Diaz 🤝 pic.twitter.com/NLTsv4smIY
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) February 20, 2022
“I have always been a believer in only signing players in January if you would want to sign them in the summer, and that’s very much the case with Luis,” said Klopp upon Diaz’s signing. “He is an outstanding player and someone we’ve been tracking for a very long time.
“Luis is a player we believe will make us better now and in the future.”
There are several factors to Liverpool’s purchase of Diaz that point toward the Colombian international being earmarked for a leading role in the near future.
Firstly, he is stylistically well suited to Klopp’s attack. Mirroring characteristics of Salah and Mane’s games that have made the pair so successful at Anfield, he is dynamic and fast over short distances, has the dribbling ability to create space for himself in the attacking third and has a refined eye for goal – he’d scored 14 times in 18 Primeira Division games this season for Porto.
He is versatile, too, meaning he could be deployed on either flank or even centrally, as Klopp evaluates the shape and personnel of his future frontline – whether it’s eventually without Mane, who had been linked with Real Madrid before the pandemic; a phasing out of Firmino, who has struggled with injuries this term; or a shock exit for Salah, whose current contract, as with Firmino’s, is set to expire at the end of next season.
Perhaps most crucial to Diaz’s suitability for a starring role is his age. At 25, he is the same age Salah was when Liverpool signed him in 2017. Diaz is not a youngster by footballing standards. His experience logged in Portugal has seen him develop all aspects of his game – in just half a campaign this term with Porto, he’d more than doubled his goals returns from each of his first two seasons with the club, while his defensive discipline improved immeasurably.
Diaz has his best years ahead of him – but not too far ahead.
34 passes later… Diaz’s first Liverpool goal.
Some team goal this 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/BacsdHCGwc
— Watch LFC (@Watch_LFC) February 21, 2022
Against Norwich, he showed exactly how swiftly he can make an impact in England, registering four shots and creating five chances for team-mates before his delicately chipped finish in the 81st minute capped a come-from-behind 3-1 victory.
“The first half was not easy for offensive players as we played a new set-up,” Klopp appraised of his latest addition. “Then you have to work through this period. That’s what he did. You could see, for everybody the first goal is an incredibly important goal. In the second half, he was 100 per cent in the game for counter-pressing moments, really good stuff with the ball and an outstanding goal, so I’m really happy for him.”
“His work-rate, and in training, you can see he has quality as well when one versus one,” added captain Jordan Henderson, whose fine through-ball assisted Diaz’s goal. “His shooting is really good and his finishing you can see today is top drawer.
“The run makes the goal. As soon as he makes the run it’s easy to play the pass. It’s a great touch and finish so I should be thanking him.”
It all goes to show that he had been meticulously scrutinised by Liverpool’s talent-spotters and decision-makers ahead of his Anfield switch. He’d been on their radar for some time. And the Reds were prepared to wait for Diaz to mature yet further in Portugal, with a swoop plotted for this coming summer, but rival interest from Tottenham and a softening of Porto’s price tag convinced them to move in late January.
Salah scored his 150th goal for Liverpool on Sunday versus the same opponents against whom his notched his first-ever strike for the Reds. Klopp is hoping the fact Diaz also got off the mark against the Canaries is a sign of great things to come.
“Hopefully,” the manager said, “Luis can use his first goal the same way.”