The night of December 21st, 2020, Moises Caicedo walked off of the field for the last time as an Independiente del Valle player. They had just suffered a 1-0 loss to CD Macara in the Second Phase of the Ecuadorian Serie A. Just a few days later, he was plucked from his native land to the Southern coast of England for £4 million to Brighton and Hove Albion.
Just over two years later, the highly touted and hotly pursued central midfielder was the subject of multiple bids of greater than £50 million from clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea, clubs firmly entrenched among football’s elite. Caicedo’s rise has been beyond meteoric but what led to him being so coveted by the Premier League’s Big 6, and what transpired to keep him at Brighton despite the fees being reported?
Moises Caicedo had been at Independiente del Valle since he was 13 years old. He was a significant prospect for the side and broke through into the first team at just 18 years old. In October of 2019, he made his debut off the bench against LDU Quito featuring just 14 minutes. The appearance itself feels like a microcosm of Caicedo’s career, as such a small sample size fueled what has turned into global attention on the young Ecuador international.
These 14 minutes would count as one of the just 31 appearances Moises made for his boyhood club before he was off to Brighton despite reported interest from Manchester United. These 31 appearances seemed to underline something about Caicedo’s ability to adapt to new levels.
He just simply seemed to figure it out.
His impact at Independiente del Valle had attracted attention but it seemed as if these new levels of senior club and international football for his home country of Ecuador were simply the natural next steps. Brighton’s recruitment has been revealed as an operation that prioritizes finding value in sources that other Premier League teams deem to be below the level required for a player to be able to adapt directly to the Premier League. They have proven again and again over the last three or so years that they are able to find true value in leagues that other Premier League clubs simply do not shop in.
This willingness to take chances on players like Caicedo have now put the club in the position of having a player that not only makes a massive difference for Brighton on the pitch but also will likely have a huge impact on their balance sheet as well.
Following Brighton’s recruitment of Caicedo, Tim Vickery said, “”In 2020, you saw the good formation that Moises Caicedo had. Stepped into the first team… breeze. Stepped into international football with Ecuador… breeze. He was up against Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia and made it look easy. If I had enough money I would buy him myself and put him on my mantelpiece.”
Caicedo’s introduction at Brighton was not the breeze that Graham Potter and others had perhaps envisioned. Despite joining Brighton on Deadline Day of January 2021, he would not make his first team debut for the club until the following season, turning out in a EFL Cup Second Round match against Cardiff City on August 24, 2021.
Just a week later, having been so far unable to make a significant impact on the first team, Caicedo was sent on loan to Belgium and Beerschot VA of the Jupiler Pro League. For those doing the math along at home, Caicedo was sent on loan to a midtable Belgian first division side just 533 days ago (as of the time of writing.)
His stint in Belgium served to give Caicedo some more consistent game time under first Peter Maes and then new boss Javier Torrente. His 14 appearances for Beerschot added more than 900 minutes of senior experience to his CV and by January 2022, Potter and Brighton were searching the cupboards for midfield help. They eventually decided it was time for Caicedo to come and make a difference in Sussex.
Even after returning to Brighton, Caicedo had to wait to make an impact in the Premier League. Brighton’s form was shocking. Moises watched on from the bench as Brighton slumped to just one win out of eleven. After sitting through a painful 0-0 draw against struggling Norwich, Potter finally decided to give Caicedo the keys in an important and tough fixture for the Seagulls: a trip to the Emirates Stadium.
Caicedo, who was said to make each step of his career look like a “breeze,” glided over the pitch at the Emirates that afternoon. His ability to cover an immense amount of space, provide quality passes out of midfield and the quality cover was on full display. His ability as a box-to-box midfielder could not have been highlighted to a further degree than his link-up in Arsenal’s box which saw Enock Mwepu register what proved to be the winning goal.
The 1-2 he played with Leandro Trossard belied a game sense and an ability to pick his moment that coupled seamlessly with an unbelievable level of technical ability. Mwepu and Trossard grabbed the headlines, but Caicedo had announced himself.
Caicedo went on to start every one of Brighton’s last eight games, with the Seagulls registering five wins and just a single loss, to the eventual Premier League Champions, Manchester City. Caicedo was now officially a fixture and was perhaps on no larger stage than in Brighton’s statement 4-0 win over Manchester United. Caicedo registered his first goal for the club, a scathing low drive from about 25 yards. His 92% passing accuracy and just general control in midfield also caught the eye of fans and pundits alike. Caicedo’s step up had been a breeze yet again.
By October of the following season, with speculation swirling, Graham Potter was off to Chelsea and with Roberto De Zerbi taking over at Brighton, it seemed like maybe the Seagulls would drop off from the strong position they had been put in. If anything, De Zerbi strengthened the group and Caicedo along with them.
In the 2022-23 campaign so far, Caicedo got right back to where he left off. He has been just short of ever-present for Roberto De Zerbi’s side and Brighton sit in 8th in the Premier League. Caicedo continues to be a force in midfield, ticking over possession, picking the right moments to support the back four or move forward with the attackers.
His game sense and vision are constantly touted as being absolutely top-class. So when the team top of the Premier League in January, and another club seemingly willing to try to pip any rival to a target, were looking for a midfielder, Caicedo suddenly found himself in the eye of a storm.
Late in the January window, it was clear that Arsenal, who were surprised to find themselves top of the League a couple of years ahead of schedule, were looking for reinforcements in midfield. Injuries had left them a bit light and it looked like Caicedo could be just the remedy they needed to finish off their title push.
Earlier in the season, during the summer window, Liverpool’s reported interest in the midfielder for a fee of about £42 million would only fetch them “his boots” according to then manager Graham Potter. In the intervening months, Caicedo had been wonderful for Brighton and looked effervescent for an ultimately unlucky Ecuador side at the 2022 World Cup. The stock had risen considerably and despite bids of more than £50 million from both Arsenal and big spenders Chelsea, Brighton’s message was consistent. Moises was not for sale.
To the shock of many, it turned out Moises wanted to send a message of his own.
After reports of Arsenal’s £60 million bid was rejected, Caicedo posted a lengthy message on his social media pleading for the club to reconsider. He pointed to his rise out of a poor family in Ecuador, the fee that Brighton would command to improve the squad, and his dream to be “the most decorated player in the history of Ecuador,” as reasons that Tony Bloom and the rest of Brighton’s hierarchy should accept the bid and allow him the move.
The fascinating thing? He’d made exactly 31 senior appearances for Brighton at the time of the request, matching his total at Independiente prior to his move. This time, however, the fee did not sway the club that held his contract. Caicedo was excluded from Brighton’s FA Cup win over Liverpool and given time away from the team until “his future was decided.” The window slammed shut and Caicedo was a Brighton player still.
You would be forgiven for asking Brighton about their decision. Why hold onto a player who is publicly asking to leave? The answer for Brighton is quite elementary. They have a player under contract, no financial necessity to sell, and they see him as being a lynchpin in a campaign that could end in European qualification.
Brighton’s campaign has seen the emergence of others who seem to be cut from the same mold as Caicedo. Kaoru Mitoma, Pervis Estupinan, and Evan Ferguson all seem set to make a significant mark on the seaside club, but with the relative strength of Brighton on and off the pitch, they would not be bullied into selling below Caicedo’s full value.
Moises Caicedo has since been reintegrated into the Brighton squad. He played the full 90 minutes in Brighton’s last three games, a 1-1 draw to Crystal Palace, a 1-0 defeat to Fulham and a 1-0 victory against Stoke City in the FA Cup, and it looks like De Zerbi and company have done enough to keep Caicedo onside for the remainder of the season. The Seagulls sit eighth in the table and will be counting on the Ecuadorian as they look to qualify for Europe for the first time ever.
With that being said, it is safe to say that his head has been turned and there will be no shortage of clubs sniffing around come June. Arsenal and Chelsea could well come back in for him, with clubs like Liverpool or perhaps even large clubs abroad seeking out his services. Despite that interest, you had better believe that they will make a significant profit and could be looking for the next 20 Moises Caicedos with the proceeds.
By: Phil Baki / @PhilTalksFooty
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mike Hewitt / Getty Images