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Moises Caicedo: Brighton midfielder has gone from teenager in Ecuador to Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd target

Chelsea have agreed a deal with Brighton worth a British record £115m for midfielder Caicedo; The Blues are understood to be paying an initial £100m, plus £15m in performance-related add-ons.

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Sky Sports' Nick Wright and Ron Walker take a deep dive into the story of Moises Caicedo and look at how he became one of the Premier League's most exciting young players

In the wake of his country's World Cup exit last year, when other players were jetting off to high-end holiday resorts, Moises Caicedo was back in Santo Domingo, Ecuador, playing in a local tournament on the same dusty pitch he used as a boy.

In footage which went viral in the country, Caicedo, a rising star in the Premier League who had just become Ecuador's youngest scorer at a World Cup, can be seen finding the net again, only this time as a ringer for Caicedos FC, a team made up of extended family members.

His goal, slotted in at the near post in ramshackle surroundings, helped Caicedos FC win the tournament and was celebrated with a leap, a fist pump, and a gesture of recognition to the few hundred spectators sitting or leaning on fences around the pitch.

"This is Moises," Miguel Angel Ramirez, Caicedo's former coach at his boyhood club Independiente del Valle, tells Sky Sports with a smile. "Going back to his village, to his family, his friends, playing football, helping everyone there. He's doesn't forget his people."

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    In fact, Ramirez adds, supporting his "people" - Caicedo is the youngest of 10 siblings - has long been the midfielder's primary motivation. "It was his biggest target, to have a better house, a car for all of them, to give them a better life. If he was able to do that playing football, the thing he loved the most, even better."

    It is safe to say Caicedo has succeeded.

    At 19, he fulfilled his dream of earning a move to Europe when he completed a £4.5m switch from Independiente del Valle to Brighton. Now, only two years on, he is one of the Premier League's most coveted young players, with a value north of £70m.

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    Caicedo plays with the composure and maturity of someone far older but that child-like celebration in Santo Domingo betrayed the youthful innocence of a player still affectionately known in Ecuador as 'Niño Moi', or, in English, 'The Kid Moi'.

    Moises CAICEDO (23) of ECUADOR reacts after scoring in the second half of the FIFA World Cup Group A match ECUADOR vs SENEGAL at Khalifa International Stadium in Ar-Rayyan, Qatar on November 29, 2022. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
    Image: Moises Caicedo scored for Ecuador against Senegal at the World Cup

    "I love him because he is a boy, a small boy," says Ramirez, who first coached Caicedo in Independiente del Valle's youth academy before taking over the senior side in 2019.

    "He cried two or three times with me. At the beginning, when maybe I was aggressive with him in training, he was crying like a baby, but with his back turned, to not see him."

    On other occasions, though, specifically when it came to seeing his family, some three hours' drive from his club's headquarters in the city of Sangolqui, Caicedo was unable to conceal his emotions.

    "One day, in a period when he was injured, he requested permission to go home and celebrate his birthday," recalls Ramirez.

    "I declined and said, 'Moises, you are injured. You have to recover and you have to get back as soon as possible. There are no off days for professional players. You have to understand that, now, you are not in the academy anymore. When you get out to a big club, you cannot request to your club, can I please have an off day to celebrate my birthday with my family? Because they will not give it to you!'

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    "After that," Ramirez adds, chuckling again, "he was crying like a baby in the gym, on the bike cycling."

    Ramirez's firm stance in that instance was intended to serve as a lesson to Caicedo but, like that of Brighton's hierarchy when Arsenal and Chelsea were bidding for him in January, it stemmed primarily from his importance to the team.

    Indeed, even as a teenager at that time, his talent was such that, in the middle of helping Independiente's U20s win the U20 Copa Libertadores in Paraguay in 2020, he was intermittently travelling back to Ecuador to turn out for Ramirez's senior side.

    "He was very important for us in the first team, but he was also a key player for the U20s," says Ramirez. "So, for a week or 10 days, he was playing with the U20s, then flying back to Quito to play for us in the Ecuadorian league, then going back to the Libertadores. It was crazy."

    Soon, Caicedo was shining in the senior Libertadores - South America's equivalent of the Champions League - and causing heads to turn against Brazilian giants Flamengo. "He made noise around the world," recalls Ramirez. "All the big clubs started to talk."

    Moises Caicedo excelled for Independiente del Valle in the 2020 Copa Libertadores
    Image: Moises Caicedo excelled for Independiente del Valle in the 2020 Copa Libertadores

    Part of his attraction to Brighton and, subsequently, Premier League rivals Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, was his ability to adapt to different roles. Caicedo came through Independiente del Valle's academy as a No 6. Under Ramirez, though, he played further forward, as a No 8.

    "In the first team, we had at that time Cristian Pellerano, an unbelievable No 6, with a big, big understanding of the game," explains Ramirez. "He was a coach on the pitch, and he helped Moises a lot to understand the game and develop.

    "But we still wanted to play with Pellerano as No 6, so, if we wanted Moises in the team, he had to play as a No 8."

    Happily, it worked out perfectly.

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    Miguel Angel Ramirez, Moises Caicedo’s manager at Independiente del Valle, explains why the Brighton midfielder is well worth his reported valuation of £70m

    "We realised at that time that Moises actually had a bigger impact in the game, and helped the team more, as a No 8, because he had the ability to score, the last pass, he was able to get into the box, and he was very aggressive in the first pressure," says Ramirez.

    "So, he started to understand the position. It is more difficult because you have to play between lines, with less space, less time. You have to adapt your body shape before receiving the ball and have more information. With time, he started to gain these tools."

    So much so, in fact, that Caicedo was soon telling Ramirez, who is now managing Sporting Gijon in Spain, that he preferred to play as a No 8 than a No 6. At Brighton, though, he has had to demonstrate the same versatility and adaptability.

    Graham Potter used him, successfully, as a left-sided No 8 at the start of the season following a transitional first year which included a loan spell in Belgium with Beerschot. But Roberto De Zerbi, Potter's successor, dropped him back to the base of midfield, even deploying him, at times, as a makeshift right-back.

    Moises Caicedo's position changed following Roberto De Zerbi's arrival
    Image: Moises Caicedo's position changed following Roberto De Zerbi's arrival

    Caicedo excelled wherever required, starting 34 of Brighton's 38 Premier League games and playing a crucial role in the most successful season in the club's history, the statistics helping to underline the extent of his influence in and out of possession.

    As a ball-winner, he is among the very best in the division.

    Quick, combative and always alert to danger, Caicedo ranked second for both tackles and interceptions this season, behind only Joao Palhinha and Declan Rice respectively, while only Rice and Rodri won possession more times in the middle third.

    That off-the-ball work helped shield Brighton's defence, while also allowing them to dominate opponents by winning back possession swiftly following opposition turnovers.

    Moises Caicedo is influential on and off the ball for Brighton
    Image: Moises Caicedo is influential on and off the ball for Brighton

    Caicedo was similarly important to their build-up.

    In fact, only seven players anywhere in the Premier League had more touches than Caicedo this season while only five - Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Gabriel Magalhaes, Virgil van Dijk, Rodri and his Brighton team-mate Lewis Dunk - completed more passes.

    That he finished the campaign with an accuracy rate of 89 per cent is even more impressive when you consider newly-available data which shows that only two players - Rodri and Newcastle's Bruno Guimaraes - made a higher total of pressured passes (780).

    That ability to retain possession under pressure is just another of the qualities first honed in Ecuador and his huge price-tag, deemed inflated by some, is no surprise to those who know him best.

    "Ultimately, it is the market that tell you how good you are, so when a club is offering a fee, it is because that is your level," says Ramirez. "And Moises is at this level. This is the reality."

    Moises Caicedo

    That reality makes the human qualities demonstrated during his visit to Santo Domingo, where he also opened a football school, more commendable - even if, as Ramirez found out after declining his request to return home to celebrate his birthday back at Independiente del Valle, his devotion to his family has occasionally meant bending the rules.

    "In time, when I was not his coach anymore, he said to me, 'Coach, I have to tell you that, in the night, I went home to celebrate with my family because I knew it was the last time I would be in Ecuador for my birthday before I went to Europe.'

    "But, the next day he was there in the morning to work again. It was my intention to say he couldn't, but he did everything well to celebrate his birthday and then get back to work the next day.

    "In the end, he is still just a boy who enjoys playing football. He is innocent and sometimes naïve to request or tell you something, but this is the thing I love most about him, that he is still like that."

    From Ecuador to the Premier League, Moises Caicedo now counts Ramirez as just one of many admirers.

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