Ralph Hannah –
Good things come to those who wait, is a phrase that has proved to be true for teenager Sergio Díaz who is set to become just the fourth Paraguayan ever to play for Real Madrid. The news broke on Friday in Asunción, first from the player’s camp—with emotional radio interviews with his parents and later his agent—followed by confirmation from Juan José Zapag, the president of Cerro Porteño, that they had agreed on a fee with the Spanish giants.
Díaz had been linked with Roma for over a year having first attracted attention in 2013 when he notched up 30 goals at the U15s level. In June 2014, he debuted with the first team and by September had scored his first senior goal while still aged 15. Destined for a big move, it was around that time his father Ismael left his job to dedicate himself full time to his son’s football career—no easy decision considering Sergio is one of eight children.
Sergio Díaz the Kid from Itauguá
Díaz hails from Itauguá, the birthplace of Salvador Cabañas and, therefore, would often spend up to 3 hours a day commuting to and from training. The sacrifice seems to have paid off after contact from the most successful team in the history of European football who had a 6-year contract in hand.
On Tuesday, Díaz will head to Madrid for his medical and, barring any surprises, will follow in the footsteps of Juan Bautista Aguero (1965-66), Sebastián Fleitas (1969-72) and Cristobal Maldonado (1973-74) by playing a senior game for the Merengue. He will certainly want to avoid the fate of Carlos Javier Acuña who couldn’t live up to the hype and only got as far as the Real Madrid Castilla bench, after impressing hugely at the 2004 U16s Sudamericano, and before knocking around the Segunda where he is now with Real Mallorca.
Díaz certainly seems to have more to his game. A diminutive forward, more comfortable as a second striker, he has a fantastic turn of pace and great ball control. When playing in the Paraguay Primera for Cerro Porteño, he was often seen weaving between defenders twice his size and almost double his age, before offloading a killer pass or finding the net himself. He scored 8 goals in his debut season in the top flight, and 5 in the next short season, a good return considering he’d rarely last 90 minutes.
Sergio Díaz Is Often Called “Kun” Díaz
His style could be compared to that of Sergio Agüero, the low centre of gravity, searing pace and ability to make space for himself, with or without the ball, has, in fact, earned him the nickname “Kun” Díaz. The Man City marksman also made his professional debut at 15 and made a big money move to the Spanish capital when he turned 18, albeit to Atlético Madrid.
There is no doubt that Díaz has the potential to emulate the Argentine, and he is arguably the most exciting prospect to emerge from Paraguay since Roque Santa Cruz who, in 1999, moved from Olimpia direct to Bayern Munich.
The forward will, of course, begin life at Real Madrid Castilla with other superstar youngsters such as Enzo Zidane Fernández, son of the current first-team coach, and the Norwegian, Martin Ødegaard, another player who made waves before turning 16. Within his age group he can be unstoppable—he demonstrated that at this year’s Toulon tournament with scintillating displays in the opening two games against Guinea and Japan. Although the Albirrojita were outclassed in their remaining games against England and Portugal, there is little doubt that those show stopping performances early on, convinced Real Madrid to move decisively.
It has since been revealed that the first contact was made on May 11, after Cerro’s final game of the season against Rubio Ñu but, as Miguela Díaz (Sergio’s mother) explained to the local radio show, “Fútbol a lo Grande”, they were sworn to secrecy. “It was very hard to keep it a secret,” she said, “but we spoke with the rest of the family and said it had to stay within these four walls”. The only chance that somebody might have caught on was a couple of weeks later when Real Madrid picked up their 11th European Cup—“When Real played their final, we were all cheering for them!”
Díaz Needs to Become More Physical
The hope is that he will continue his development, particularly on the physical side, for, while Paraguayan football can be tough, it is hardly athletic. Games are sometimes played at 4pm in the summer months with temperatures close to 40 degrees centigrade, so teams play patient possession games. Pressing as a team is rare, and the time spent sprinting is far less than in Europe.
The lack of athleticism has probably been the reason that other teenage talents didn’t make the grade – Rodrigo Alborno (Inter Milan), Brian Montenegro (West Ham) and Jorge Rojas (Benfica Lisbon) have all either returned to Paraguay or dropped down a division.
The lingering doubt over how Díaz will adapt to the rigours of European football probably justifies the relatively low transfer fee that is being reported at around 5 million euros. That’s a stark contrast to his “namesake” Kun Agüero who cost Atlético 23 million euros ten years ago. With the world-class development and training that the Blancos can offer, however, he could prove to be one of the biggest bargains in recent years. If managed correctly, Sergio Díaz could be scoring goals in the Champions League as easily as he was in the Copa Libertadores.
Ralph Hannah is Londoner living in Luque with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.