It was lunchtime on February 4 and Jurgen Klopp, fresh from an unexpected purchase in the January sales, was doing his best to keep expectations in check.
‘Let me say it like this,’ Liverpool’s manager began. ‘If Luis Diaz would now come here, on to the football pitch, and immediately be at his absolute best and playing better than all the others that would be really strange. We (as a group) have worked together for a while. It needs time.’
Klopp’s predictions about players aren’t usually wrong but this one, about his recruit from Porto, has proven way off target. From the first time he touched the ball, as a substitute against Cardiff in the FA Cup, Diaz has looked like he has been at Liverpool for years – and has played accordingly.
Luis Diaz (centre) has hit the ground running brilliantly at Liverpool after arriving in January
The Colombian winger signed from Porto after a £8million down payment out of a £37.5m fee
To say Diaz has hit the ground running would be a glaring understatement. He has come out of the blocks quicker than a sprinter in the Olympic 100 metres final and the impact he has had on Liverpool’s season – the latest stellar contribution coming at Villarreal – has been profound.
Speed is key to this story, from the way Liverpool moved to secure his signature in the final week of the window to how he has adjusted to life on Merseyside, where the influence of Spanish speakers such as Thiago Alcantara and James Milner should not be overlooked.
Tottenham wanted to land Diaz, Ralf Rangnick was determined that he should go to Manchester United while David Moyes had ambitions to take him to West Ham, but Liverpool – with a £8million down payment to Porto out of a fee of £37.5m – swooped for a man they initially had intended to recruit this summer.
The business was impressive but, as Klopp warned, adjusting to life in his team is something else altogether. Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrew Robertson, Naby Keita – here are four examples of individuals needing time to find their feet.
But the Colombia international, 25, has been almost unique. Klopp has made the conscious decision to not overload him with technical instructions, in terms of how Liverpool move when they do not have the ball, but it has all come naturally.
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp (right) predicted it would take him time to adapt but he was wrong
Diaz came on as a sub and helped turn things round against Villarreal in the Champions League
His new team-mates have had their breath taken away by the way he has performed in training, with his enthusiasm, exuberance and character making him a hit.
They say whenever you see Diaz at the AXA training centre in Kirkby he has a big smile on his face but, really, the same could be said for the squad.
As the pressure has cranked up during the season and the stakes have risen, Diaz – whose dribbling brings a different dimension to Liverpool’s attack – has put his fingerprints all over a succession of big victories, the most important of which was Tuesday’s come-from-behind success at El Madrigal.
The FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, the Merseyside Derby, an Anfield showdown with Manchester United and now a Champions League semi-final second leg.
Diaz has been outstanding, a signing who has genuinely transformed the team’s fortunes.
And team-mate Andy Robertson (right) hailed the 25-year-old’s impact at Anfield as ‘special’
‘He has been special,’ Robertson beamed. ‘We’ve tried to help him as much as we can, all the players. We know how difficult it is coming in, in January.
‘The coaches and everyone else have got him up to speed but he is a special, special player.
‘The talent he has and the will to win – he just fits us perfectly,’ Robertson continued. ‘It was tough to take Diogo Jota off (at Villarreal), he has been excellent this season, but Luis came on and made a big, big difference. He played on the left, started pushing them back, dribbling the ball and everything.
‘It was a really good half from him. He’s been special since he came in and it’s been a pleasure to play with him.
‘With a full pre-season under his belt I believe he will get better, which is scary. What he has produced in the here and now is pretty special as well.’