BEN BRERETON DIAZ trots away from the game of cricket at Blackburn’s training ground.
The Rovers players are warming up on the club’s indoor pitch before the hard work starts.
Bradley Dack is batting in front of a plastic wicket with no bails and hammering the bowling line-up.
And Diaz sits down with a smile, then jokes: “I might as well be talking to you — we’re never going to get him out.”
It is just another day at Blackburn training and he is just another one of the lads. At least around Ewood Park. In Chile, things are a lot different.
Stoke-born Diaz, 22, is the South American country’s new superstar and in the early hours of tomorrow morning will again be playing alongside global names like Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.
The striker has shot to the top of the Championship scoring charts with ten goals from 11 games so far, alongside Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Now he is also a talisman for Chile fans — and they need him to deliver.
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Martin Lasarte’s side face Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela over the next eight days and need wins with their World Cup qualification under threat.
Yet five caps and one goal into the unlikeliest of international careers, Diaz continues to capture the imagination of the country where his mum was born.
He has already featured in a Chilean TV advert for Pepsi.
As superstars go, he could hardly be more laid-back, admitting: “I’m still struggling a bit learning the Spanish, to be honest.
“Me and my girlfriend are working with a tutor who is teaching us how the language is spoken in Chile.
“It’s difficult but we are getting there.”
In Chile, the fans and media want to know every detail about him.
On his last trip, which ended with a 1–0 Copa America loss to Brazil in July, there was amazement that he ‘only’ drove a Mercedes and not a Lamborghini or Ferrari, such is his star status.
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray, who paid Nottingham Forest £7million for him in January 2019, said: “When he first came he was so young — didn’t have a car, didn’t drive.
“And passing his test? How many times did he try? I don’t know. Plenty.
“But he’s got his Merc now, he grown into himself, he’s more confident, he’s showing that he is a natural scorer.
“He had to learn to look after himself in a tough dressing room. And he carried that burden of his fee, too.
“So it was all difficult for him to begin with.”
Diaz, his adopted name a nod to his mum and new-found star status in Chile, said: “I’m harder and more physical now and more confident.
“I reckon I’ve got a bit of South American edge in my game now and that’s showing in the way I’m getting goals.
“The experiences I have had have been amazing — like doing those commercials, playing with big stars.
“I’m proud I can now represent my mum’s side of the family but I’m just as proud I’m from Stoke and play for Blackburn.
“I’m still just one of the lads and I don’t forget where I come from and how hard I have worked to get where I am.”
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