Luis Manuel Díaz raised his hands in gratitude, trying to make his voice heard above the noise.
Tears of relief and joy filled the crowd in front of the home of Liverpool forward Luis Diaz’s grandfather, Jacob Diaz, in the Colombian town of Barrancas.
They chanted “Mane!”, the nickname by which the 56-year-old is affectionately called, as they celebrated his safe return after 12 days of suffering at the hands of his kidnappers.
“I would like to thank God for giving me this wonderful opportunity to return to my hometown,” he said through a megaphone. “I would like to thank Barrancas, La Guajira (the area where this town is located) and all the people of Colombia for the support they have given my family. I love you very much. Very soon we will give you There will be a chance to say hello and hug.”
5,000 miles away in France, 26-year-old Colombian international Diaz was released by his father from the left-wing guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) just two hours before Liverpool’s Europa League match. I received confirmation that it was done. Toulouse last night.
Despite all his emotions, Dias informed Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp that he still wanted to start the game.
“It’s great news and we are very happy for him,” said the club’s Argentina midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, one of Diaz’s closest friends in the team. “He went through a really bad situation, but he’s a very mature guy and he handled it very well.”
Kidnapping of Luis Diaz’s parents leaves Liverpool to ‘fight for Lucho’
For Carlos Alemán, a reporter and presenter for Bogota-based TV station Win Sports, it marked a happy ending to a story that has dominated the Colombian news agenda for the past two weeks. There was outrage that one of the country’s most talented and popular players was subjected to such heartache.
“This country has come together to express its disgust at the actions of the ELN,” Aleman said. The Athletic. “It was news that plunged us into endless sadness. The incident revived the ghosts of the past, when kidnappings dominated the front pages of all media in the country.
“The release of Luis Manuel Díaz is a joy for the country. The scene of the reunion was very moving. The whole community took to the streets to welcome him. It showed the importance of the Díaz family to the whole Barrancas. Ta.”
On October 28, Luis Manuel and his wife Sirenis Marulanda’s lives changed forever when they were attacked by gunmen on motorcycles at a gas station in town.
Sirenis was found shortly after being abandoned, but a massive search was launched over fears that Luis Manuel could be taken across the nearby border to Venezuela. Bounties of around $48,000 (£40,000) were offered as hundreds of police and military personnel were recruited to the La Guajira region.
The ELN, which has been fighting the Colombian state since the 1960s and is considered a terrorist organization, was responsible. It is unclear whether their motive was money or simply to embarrass the government.
On November 2, they announced that they intended to release Luis Manuel unharmed, but in the following days commanders demanded “guarantees of security” and the withdrawal of troops to facilitate the handover. And so on, a painful false dawn continued.
Dias, who missed games against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth following the kidnapping, returned to training and came off the bench to score a dramatic late equalizer against Luton Town last Sunday.
He then took off his Liverpool shirt, revealing a T-shirt with the message “Libertad para Papa” written on it. Diaz later made an impassioned plea for the release of “the breadwinner of the family,” adding: Please end this painful waiting time. My mother, brother and I are all hopeless and suffering. ”
Amid widespread condemnation of the crime, upon returning to Barrancas’ hometown, her mother joined a march demanding her husband’s release.
“Pressure from the international community was certainly important in accelerating the liberation process,” Aleman said. “The importance of Luis Diaz in our society is undeniable. He is one of the most important public figures in this country and the most important football player of our time.
“The country and the football community came together in a great way and showed their love in all local league matches. Many players spoke in the media wishing Luis Manuel an early return. All this will definitely resolve the situation. contributed to.
“The ELN is currently in the process of negotiations with the central government in pursuit of peace in our country. This act is difficult for many to understand, given that one of the conditions is to renounce criminal activities. It may be difficult. A desire for global attention or financial motives may have been a factor.”
United Nations humanitarian workers and Catholic Church officials attended Thursday’s handover at the foot of Serranía del Perija, a mountain range on the Colombia-Venezuela border.
They include Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, a long-standing partner of CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who works with communities around the world to fight poverty and poverty. fighting for justice.
Ulrike Beck, CAFOD’s Colombia Program Director, said: “We are happy that Luis Díaz’s father has been released safely. We are proud to support Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, a respected and well-known man in Colombia. For decades, he has worked to promote peace, human rights and an end to armed conflict. In December 2003, he led negotiations and rescued British hostage Mark Henderson and six others who were being held by ELN guerrillas. This led to the release of foreign tourists.”
After his release, Luis Manuel was flown by helicopter to the city of Valledupar, where he underwent medical checks before embarking on the 55-mile (90-kilometer) journey to Barrancas. He is said to be in good health except for swelling in his right leg.
In a statement thanking those responsible for his release, the Colombian Football Federation added: “Football is passion in peace. Let no one think of attacking that reality again.”
Immediately after his release, Luis Manuel met with Colombian President Gustavo Petro, and local media reported that he informed the president that he intended to fly to Britain to be reunited with his son as soon as possible.
The man Diaz described as “my hero.” His father coached him from the age of six, and at the age of 17 he was picked up by Colombian top club Atlético Junior. Luis Manuel previously appeared as a guest on Aleman’s TV show and spoke about his pride in his son’s rise to stardom. .
“He definitely exudes warmth,” Aleman says. “I feel that Luis’s character is greatly influenced by his honest and kind father and mother. Luis Manuel Díaz is a man who is dedicated to the sport and community of Barrancas. One of the most important people. He is known as a teacher, cheerful and very friendly, with strong family values.”
After Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Brentford at Anfield this Sunday, Dias will return to his home country for the start of his final international break of the year.
Fittingly, Colombia will play Brazil on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier in the coastal city of Barranquilla, the home stadium of Atlético Junior, where his playing career began. Tight security and thunderous applause are guaranteed.
“I have great respect for the strength that Luis has shown during such difficult times,” added Aleman. “In addition to being a great player, he is a very resilient man and an inspiration to many of us.”
(Top photo: Getty Images)