Luis Díaz Delivered For Liverpool As Search For Kidnapped Father Continues
12:03 PM EST on November 6, 2023
In a week from hell for Luis Díaz and his family, the Colombian winger was there when Liverpool needed him most.
On Sunday, Liverpool faced Luton Town and ran into the tiny brick wall that could, as the Hatters played unwelcoming hosts to the third-place Reds at the 11,000-capacity Kenilworth Road. Despite the talent and financial disparity between the two sides, Luton Town made all things equal for 80 minutes, giving Liverpool little to work with. The hosts even further shocked the visitors, via an 80th-minute Tahith Chong goal that seemed to secure three unlikely points for the Premier League debutantes, who haven't beat Liverpool since 1991.
That's where the match stood until deep into stoppage time, when Díaz showed up in the hardest of times to equalize with a towering header off of a 95th-minute Harvey Elliott cross:
The shirt Díaz wore underneath his jersey made clear that there are other things besides soccer on his mind. "Libertad para papa," it read. "Freedom for papa." Díaz's father, Luis Manuel Díaz, as well as his mother, Cilenis Marulanda, were kidnapped on Oct. 28 by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the player's hometown of Barrancas, Colombia. While his mother was released during an initial police search for the hostages, the elder Díaz has been missing for over a week now. Police and military forces in Colombia have been searching for him near the Venezuelan border on the northern end of Colombia.
Liverpool gave Díaz the last two games off in light of the situation with his family (he was reportedly advised to not return to Colombia in the meantime, due to safety concerns). However, he requested to be added back in the squad on Sunday for his first match since Oct. 26. Though he didn't retain his usual starting spot on the left wing—Jürgen Klopp decided that it would be best to use him in a more limited role—Díaz came on in the 83rd minute, with Liverpool looking for an equalizer. Just 12 minutes later, he would find himself rising above Luton wing back Issa Kaboré for a point-saving header and what must have felt like the best distraction among the turmoil of the past eight days.
As reported by the BBC, the ELN released a statement, signed by its commander José Manuel Martínez Quiroz, on Sunday, stating that the group will release Luis Manuel Díaz once it has "security guarantees" from the government. The statement was vaguely threatening, however, alluding to "increased risk" for Díaz's father:
We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces. The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation. This situation is not allowing for the execution of the release plan quickly and safely, where Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz is not at risk. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks.
After the match, Díaz released a statement of his own, asking for the safe return of his father, and thanking "all Colombians and also the international community" for supporting him during the past week. For now, Díaz and his family await news from the ELN on when his father will be released, or alternatively rescued in the search efforts. For a key moment on Sunday, though, Díaz was able to get back to what he's so good at, and though a point pales in comparison to what he's going through, it probably felt great to score and send a global message for his father.