Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo will have just turned 21 when he lines up against Qatar in the World Cup opener, but he is already an experienced lynchpin of the national side and is turning heads in the best league in the world.
Part of Ecuador’s successful generation change, Caicedo became a commanding midfield presence during their arduous, two-year South American qualifying campaign.
Able to drive forward and create chances for others, Caicedo also netted two goals himself for “La Tri” in those qualifiers and has become a box-to-box player, helping out the defence when necessary due to his impressive fitness and work rate.
“He’s getting better and better,” enthused his Argentine manager Gustavo Alfaro.
Perhaps most notably, Caicedo scored the opening goal in Ecuador’s stunning home win over Uruguay in October 2020, becoming at 18 the first player born this century to score in South America’s Conmebol World Cup qualifying group.
Not surprisingly, Caicedo is making waves in the Premier League with Brighton and Hove Albion, undaunted by being thrown in against some of the world’s best players.
After performances worthy of a veteran, including a goal in Brighton’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United, there is speculation Caicedo may be signed by an elite club, such as Chelsea where his former manager Graham Potter has taken over.
Though he has a lot still to prove, media and fans have compared his style with France midfielders N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.
“Moises leads by example, by the way he plays, and by his aggression on the pitch,” said Miguel Angel Ramirez, former coach at Caicedo’s teenage club Independiente del Valle.
“He’s young but he doesn’t go around shouting his head off. He gets himself noticed through his play and he’s vital for La Tri.”
The youngest of 10 siblings from a poor family, Caicedo left home in his early teens to join Independiente, promising: “Mum and Dad, one day you will be proud of me, I promise!”
“It was tough at first without friends and acquaintances, Honestly I nearly went back home,” recalled the Ecuadorean, who was once furious at not being let out by the club for a birthday with his family and bid an emotional farewell to his parents when flying out to join Brighton.
It will all be worthwhile should Caicedo help Ecuador to a good showing in Qatar.
Until then, he has plenty of encouragement from adoring Brighton fans, who have penned the chant: “He came from Ecuador/ To win the Ballon d’Or/ His name is Moises Caicedo!!”