Manchester United have let a lot of good players slip through their fingers down the years. Based on the short Brighton career of Moises Caicedo so far, the Ecuadorian midfielder could go onto be the biggest regret of the lot.
Back in January 2021, United looked in pole position to sign the then 19-year-old, hailed as one of the brightest young talents in South America. Caicedo was already a full international having shone in his homeland for Independiente del Valle. He made his debut for Independiente at the age of 17 in October 2019 and went onto play 31 times over the next 14 months, scoring twice before his move to England.
United had agreed a fee of around £4.5m. It looked an absolute steal for a player of such potential. As a self-confessed United obsessive, Caicedo would have crawled over hot coals to move to Old Trafford. It appeared as straightforward a transfer negotiation as you can imagine.
Except of course, nothing is ever easy when it comes to signing players from South America. There was a complex web of third party ownership to try and pick through, which one United source rather elegantly told the Manchester Evening News was a "clustef**k." The Red Devils therefore decided Caicedo was not worth the effort. How wrong could they have been?
Brighton, in contrast, were willing to jump through all the necessary hoops to bring Caicedo to the Amex.
They were helped in that regard by having previously dealt with Independiente when paying a fee rumoured to be around £1m for Billy Arce in August 2018. Independiente were impressed with Albion during those negotiations and wanted to help Brighton with the Caicedo deal, while the Seagulls themselves had more of a clue of what to do than United.
If you are scratching your head wondering who Arce is at this point, then do not worry. He did not make a single appearance for Brighton in the three-and-a-half years he was on their books before being released on a free in January 2022.
His Albion career consisted of loan spells with four different clubs and 20 days spent in an Ecuadorian jail for drink driving. An utterly pointless signing on the pitch for Brighton; but for the role he played in smoothing the path for Caicedo to move to the Amex, Arce has to go down as a fantastic piece of business.
As with every young player Brighton sign, Graham Potter treated Caicedo carefully. He was given time to adapt to life in Europe, joining Belgian Jupiler League side Beerschot on a season-long loan in August. Brighton recalled Caicedo after only six months, however.
He was then handed a surprise Premier League debut when the Seagulls went to the Emirates Stadium at the start of April, Potter cramming five central midfielders into a system designed to be deliberately narrow.
Caicedo was outstanding that afternoon as Brighton won 2-1 at Arsenal, ending a seven game winless streak in which they had only scored once.
He set up the second goal, popping up down the left flank to sweep a perfectly-placed low pass from the by-line to the edge of the Gunners' box which Enock Mwepu clinically despatched past Aaron Ramsdale. It was a move and finish good enough to be nominated for April's Premier League Goal of the Month award.
Since then, there has been no looking back for Caicedo. Of his six matches as a Brighton player, the Seagulls have won four, drawn one and lost one. Even the two games they failed to win, Caicedo impressed in.
He was the best Seagull on the pitch when Brighton were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City, the highlights being two outrageous blocks. Those interventions prevented near-certain goals from Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne.
Brighton had not scored a home goal since mid-January until Caicedo made his home debut. They may have only drawn 2-2 with Southampton that day, but Seagulls supporters just seeing their side score felt like a victory. There were victories of course, wins at Spurs and Wolves to go with the three points Caicedo helped deliver at Arsenal.
If there were United fans who were not aware of who Caicedo was or how close their club came to signing him after all that, then they certainly knew his name after the Red Devils were utterly humbled at the Amex.
Brighton 4-0 Manchester United flattered the visitors if anything and Caicedo was at the heart of everything good the Seagulls did, including opening the scoring with a crisp effort driven in from the edge of the box. A case of Moises parting a red sea of shirts.
That was the first glimpse that Brighton fans have had of his shooting ability. Plenty has been made of his reading of the game, his ability to consistently break up opposition attacks and his armoury of one-touch flicks and clever passes which always seem to release another blue-and-white-clad player into space. That he can be so effective at both ends of the pitch is because of the remarkable engine he possesses.
Comparisons have rightly been made with Yves Bissouma. It says everything about Caicedo's impact that Bissouma's almost-inevitable summer sale as he enters the final year of his Brighton contract no longer seems like the significant blow it would have otherwise been. Caicedo is a ready-made replacement.
And yet everything about Caicedo's career so far suggests he will become even better than Bissouma. It took Bissouma 18 months from arriving in England to establish himself as a first-choice player, by which time he was 22-years-old. Caicedo has done it inside of four months since returning from Beerschot and at the age of 20. The potential Caicedo has is frightening.
As the sun set and the beers flowed amongst Brighton fans toasting their famous victory outside the Amex on Saturday night, they sung about Caicedo being a future Ballon d'Or winner to the tune of Voulez-Vous by ABBA.
That might be a pretty bold statement, but right now there cannot be a more exciting young player in the Premier League. Manchester United's loss has been Brighton's gain.
Source : 90min