For Miguel Angel Ramirez, Caicedo’s coach at Independiente del Valle, the midfielder’s extraordinary abilities are undeniable. Although he was only 19 years old at the time, each time he was absent, Independiente struggled with the lack of a characteristic combination of dynamic play and technique of this player. “When he came back, the team took off again,” Ramirez said. Caicedo’s strong running steps make me hot. I thought to myself: this boy is my treasure. But I know the club can’t keep him for long.”
That feeling sounds familiar to Brighton fans, and it’s not a good thing to lose one of your best players. This is a player who will always find his way to the top, and the speed of his advancement can not help but make others dizzy. Ramirez – who knows Caicedo better than most coaches who have worked with the player – even emphasized: “He was born to play for big teams in big tournaments. I always told him that if you can fly, you can fly as much as you can.”
Caicedo was born in a squalid corner of Santo Domingo, Ecuador’s fourth largest city. Family life is extremely difficult, but full of love. His father worked as a truck driver, while his mother did laundry. He is the youngest in a family of 10 children. The boy began to play on the thorny grass fields, with the goal being piles of stones. One morning, while Caicedo was practicing kicking a ball against the wall, he caught the eye of a local coach named Ivan Guerra because he could play with two feet.
Guerra suggested Caicedo join Ecuador’s Barcelona team. Guerra became Caicedo’s unofficial godfather. He bought the boy football boots, paid for the bus fare and provided food for the whole family when they were hungry. In matches, Guerra also takes care of alarms and motorbike taxis for Caicedo. Initially he played as a striker, but quickly found his knack in midfield. At the age of 13, Caicedo joined the youth team of professional club Espoli. Two years later, he joined Independiente del Valle.
When Ramirez took over as Independiente’s academy director in mid-2018, Caicedo was convalescing. He ruptured the cruciate ligament in his knee last year, had multiple surgeries and was out of football for 10 months. It was a challenging time, but Caicedo made it through.
In 2019, when coach Yuri Solano started taking charge of the U18 team, he was impressed by Caicedo’s physicality. “He has great endurance, strength, speed and agility. He was far ahead of players of his age group physically,” Solano said. Indeed, Caicedo has been called “octopus” by his teammates because his feet stick to the ball like glue despite running at high speed. He can run non-stop and move on the field very well. Because of that, Caicedo is very good at winning the ball. And Caicedo is also ambitious. When Solano asked where he thought he would play in the next three years, Caicedo replied without hesitation: Man United.
He then moved to the first team at the age of 17, under coach Ramirez. Here, he shines as a top midfielder of Ecuadorian football thanks to his ability to actively support attack, while maintaining balance in defence. Sometimes, Caicedo plays at centre-back, but he prefers to play as number 5 in front of defence, because he has great tactical, speed, technical and short passes. Ramirez expects Caicedo to replace Cristian Pellerano, a number of five experienced Argentines still playing for Independiente.
But then, Caicedo was pushed higher like a flexible 8, to be able to close in on the opponent, wait for them to make mistakes and launch shots or assists. His goal in the 5-0 thrashing of Flamengo that sent shockwaves across the continent is an example. After a quick counter-attack, Caicedo appeared on the edge of the penalty area, passed four defenders and shot the ball into the roof of the net.
At the end of 2020, Caicedo played great for Ecuador. At the age of 19, he was also the best player in the country, and became one of the most talked about young talents in South America. The time to be a star seems to have come.
Brighton won the race to sign Caicedo in early 2021. Just two and a half years later, he will become a player worth £ 100 million if the transfer to Chelsea is successful. To some extent, he can be considered a long-term replacement for N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea fans hope that Caicedo’s energy and quality will transform the midfield “smooth like cotton candy” last season. If Caicedo collaborates with Enzo Fernandez like he did with Alexis Mac Allister at Brighton, coach Mauricio Pochettino will have a solid foundation to build the style of play for the Blues next season.