The top scorer for the top team in Portugal. More than a goal or assist every 90 minutes of league play. Two goals in the same Champions League group as the team keen to sign him and the Copa America’s joint-top scorer, along with a certain Lionel Messi.
There’s far more to his game though, and his personality, than mere goalscoring – however important that factor might eventually be in one of Europe’s top teams outlaying that type of money on his services.
Playing from the left of Porto’s attack more often than not, a blend of powerful acceleration, direct running and the capacity to go with both feet past defenders make him tremendously difficult to stop – and a thunderous finish at the end of his runs often ensures all eyes are drawn his way. In the Liga NOS he ranks in the top 10 among forwards and wingers for each of key passes per 90 minutes, successful dribbles and shots, while he’s outright top for shots inside the penalty box. A series of spectacular goals and headline-writing transfer rumours have made him an easy-to-watch player for the past couple of years, and his consistency has made it a worthwhile endeavour.
The usual caveats and questions surrounding star players in perceived weaker leagues will be brought up, so it’s worth noting he has already scored against both reigning champions Sporting CP and the perennial fourth-best team in Portugal, Sporting Braga. He missed the league clash with Benfica, but assisted against them in the cup. In the Champions League, too, Diaz has made his mark. In Group B this term he was the team’s biggest threat against Liverpool themselves in two defeats and scored home and away against AC Milan.
On the international scene, Diaz made his breakthrough after the last World Cup – debuting just a couple of months after England’s penalty shoot-out win over Colombia. He quickly won a place in the squad as an impact sub, playing three times at the 2019 Copa America, totalling just over 100 minutes. The scope of his improvement in the three years since then is laid bare by the difference in his standing in the team at the same tournament played last summer: five appearances, all five starts, one red card, four goals. He has played all eight World Cup qualifiers since then as well, with La Tricolor currently in fifth, the play-off spot, as they look to reach the Qatar 2022 finals.
His career is on an upward trajectory and his rate of improvement is actually still accelerating – but it’s not true to say this is a player who has ‘gone from strength to strength’. The opposite is almost true, if you go back far enough into his youth days: only good talent-spotting and talent-nurturing have perhaps allowed his skills to flourish. He has, by measurable terms, gone from weakness to strength.
It’s well-documented by now how Diaz came from one of the most impoverished regions of his nation, an area where many children are affected by malnutrition among those of Wayuu ethnicity. He wasn’t an exception and, after initially joining Barranquilla, he needed a bulking-up diet to cope with sporting rigours. Progression did come though, on and off the pitch. It’s easy to see how the personal determination and improvement on show would appeal to a manager like Jurgen Klopp. A move to Porto instead of Zenit in 2019 looks a well-thought-out path, too.
Diaz, who turned 25 earlier this month, is a rocket-fuel outlet for his team, a determined figure on the ball and possessed of very intelligent movement across the front line. He scores a fair share of headers, usually with clever runs across the defender rather than because he is aerially dominant, while his relatively strong two-footedness means a dangerous position inside the box is an unpredictable moment. He’s as likely to end up hitting the byline to fire a hard, low cut-back into the six-yard box as he is to cut inside onto his more favoured right foot, for a textbook-style, inside-forward’s effort on goal.
With specific regard to Liverpool, it’s not tough to see where he fits in well.
Playing left in a four-man midfield, even for a dominant team, has seen Diaz do the off-the-ball side of the game which he’ll have to improve even further at Liverpool.
He’s not the most aggressive in tackling, but he does harrass defenders – little else could be expected under Sergio Conceicao, himself a former hard-working and talented winger. Diaz also uses those occasions of having to be deeper in defensive work to be a more important player after transitions, with his lightning pace making him the team’s primary counter-attacking threat.
All those traits will fit in the left-sided role usually occupied by Sadio Mane – who, like Mohamed Salah on the opposite side and Roberto Firmino through the middle, has only just over a year left on his contract. Undoubtedly there will be progress made in that regard with at least one of the trio, maybe more, between now and the end of the season.
But the signing of Diaz, if and when completed, will add another layer of explosivity, longevity and renewal to an attack which has already long been the envy of Europe.