Sport

KIDNAPPING TREND

Liverpool’s Díaz the latest soccer player to endure abduction of a family member, rescue operation ongoing

Liverpool’s Díaz the latest soccer player to endure abduction of a family member, rescue operation ongoing
Luis Díaz of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool FC at St James Park on 27 August 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA / Getty Images)

The rescue operation to return the kidnapped father of Liverpool forward Luis Díaz is still ongoing after Díaz senior was abducted in Colombia just more than a week ago. Reports have also surfaced that the Díaz family abduction was a ‘mistake’.

Liverpool clashed with a spirited Luton Town outfit on Sunday, 5 November, in the English Premier League. After the league’s newcomers had seized the lead with 10 minutes left to play – on came Colombian Luis Díaz to rescue a point that may prove crucial in the race for league glory this season.

Only the 26-year-old knows the thoughts that flooded his mind when he netted that important equaliser, with virtually the last kick of the game. However, it would not be too farfetched to imagine him thinking “if only rescuing my kidnapped father was as easy as playing soccer and scoring goals for me”.

When Diaz netted that equaliser against Luton, it seemed to be written in the stars. After finding the back of the net on Sunday, he had a message for the abductors. “Libertad Para Papa” (Freedom for Dad), read his undershirt. 

It’s been a nightmarish week or so for the skilful forward Díaz and his family. His mother, Cilenis Marulanda, and father, Luis Manuel Díaz, were intercepted by armed men on motorbikes, as they drove home on 28 October. This happened in their hometown of Barrancas in the region of La Guajira.

Although his mother was rescued within hours of the kidnapping, Díaz’s father remains a captive of rebel group National Liberation Army (also called Ejército de Liberación Nacional) (ELN) as things stand.

The government – which named guerrilla insurgency group ELN as being behind the abductions – has intensified the rescue efforts for the senior Díaz. 

Silenis Marulanda, mother of Colombian soccer player Luis Díaz, leads a mobilisation to demand the freedom of her husband, kidnapped a week ago by the ELN, in Barrancas, Colombia, on 5 November 2023. Family and friends in Barrancas took to the streets of the mining town again to demand the release of Diaz senior. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ricardo Maldonado Rozo)

Statement on release

In fact, likely sensing that the net was closing in around them – the group has since released a statement that was published by Reuters.

“On 2 November, we informed the country of the decision to release Mr Luis Manuel Díaz, father of the player Luis Díaz. From that date, we began the process to accomplish this as soon as possible. We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces,” read the statement.

“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,” the captors added.

“If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks. We understand the anguish of the Díaz-Marulanda family, to whom we say that we will keep our word to release him unilaterally, as soon as we have security guarantees for the development of the liberation operation.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Liverpool take aim for another memorable Champions League comeback against Real Madrid

Before this update, the group commander Antonio Garcia had reportedly called the abduction of the Díaz family a “mistake”, saying the group was not aware that the parents of the popular soccer player were involved. Especially because “Lucho”, as Díaz junior is affectionately known, is “a symbol of Colombia”.

Although the group has not shared its motivation for the kidnappings, the general trend in such instances is usually to extort money from the abductees’ families in order to fund their operations.

At the turn of the millennium, kidnappings were big business in the South American country. However, they have decreased drastically over the last decade. Nevertheless, hundreds are kidnapped annually in Colombia.

Numb the agony

Liverpool attacker Díaz has attempted to soldier on despite the uncertainty facing his family. Having missed two of Liverpool’s games since the incident, the attacker asked to be integrated back into the team prior to the Luton clash. 

The likelihood was that his club would have granted him as much compassionate leave as possible. But sitting idly while your family faces such a situation probably does little for one’s mental state. All the scenarios you can imagine playing out all at once. 

When Díaz netted that equaliser against Luton, it seemed to be written in the stars. After finding the back of the net on Sunday, he had a message for the abductors. “Libertad Para Papa” (Freedom for Dad), read his undershirt. 

He followed it with a statement imploring the group to free his father.

“Every second, every minute our anguish grows. My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling,” he wrote on Instagram. 

“This suffering will only end when we have him back home. I beg you to resolve this immediately, respecting your integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible. In the name of love and compassion, we ask that you reconsider your actions and allow us to get him back.”

Although the Football Association does not usually allow shirts to be removed for personal messages, the Mail reported that “given the exceptional circumstances” Díaz’s dramatic gesture will not lead to charges.

Team players

Díaz’s Liverpool teammates have thrown their weight behind the forward during this period. 

“We’re here for him. We mentioned it last week. It’s an absolutely horrible situation. Hopefully there will be a solution. We’ll be here for him and everybody should support him. Hopefully it will be sorted as soon as possible,” said defender Virgil van Dijk. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Liverpool’s destruction of United should be a turning point for the Red Devils

Díaz is the latest soccer player to have members of his family become victims of abduction. In 2004, the mother of former Real Madrid and Manchester City winger Robinho was kidnapped in Brazil, before being released a few weeks later.

A decade after that incident, Argentine striker Carlos Tevez’s foster father was taken against his will, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. He too returned unharmed physically, following his ordeal.

Former Nigeria and Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel’s family also fell foul of the trend, as the patriarch of the family Michael Obi was abducted twice in seven years in Nigeria. First in 2011. Then again in 2018, as the Super Eagles prepared for that year’s Fifa World Cup. DM 

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