When Moises Caicedo sat down at the training ground to conduct his first full interview in English, he took it all in his stride. His grasp of the language is still in its infancy, likewise his football here in this country, but he took on the challenge full-on. Like he does on the pitch. Here is an individual with courage, with fighting spirit, but with a pleasant demeanour. Traits which suggest he will go far in the game.
Putting pen to paper from Independiente del Valle a little over a year ago, the Ecuadorian teenager came to England to start a new life. A new country, new language, new culture and a new way of playing, all to the backdrop of a global pandemic. And he did so by leaving his family and friends behind. He was just 19 years of age.
“Where I played for my former club, the city was three hours from my home, so I lived with the academy players,” he recalled. “I was used to living alone, away from my family, but this was, of course, more difficult for me.
“I remember those early days and weeks were tough. Everything was so different; the language, the people, the culture, but now I feel better – with my team-mates, the city, even the weather! Of course, I still miss my family and friends and hopefully they can come to visit soon. I do get to see them when I’m away with the national team and that’s really nice, even if it’s only for a short period of time.”
Moises’ maturity dictated that he was a regular in the Ecuadorian Serie A, making 23 appearances, before his move to Sussex. He was also rewarded with his first international appearance, in a World Cup qualifying defeat against Argentina, in October 2020. The following month he scored the opening goal in a 4-2 win over Uruguay, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to score in a CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier.
“My debut against Argentina was amazing – in fact, it was crazy for me because I was playing against Messi,” Moises smiled. “It was just a dream to be on the same pitch as him, compete for the ball against him, but it all felt natural for me.
“At the start of the game I was nervous of course, given it was my first game and against such strong opposition, but once I’d had my first touch, I felt okay. We lost the game [Messi scoring the solitary goal] but we still did well, against a team that also had [Angel] Di Maria in the team.
“But we still have a chance of qualifying. We have done very well so far and we have lots of younger players, so I’m sure we will get even stronger in the future.”
It says much for the Albion’s reach that we now have two Ecuador internationals in our ranks, the other being Jeremy Sarmiento.
“Jeremy has been good to have around. Obviously he grew up in this country, so it makes me smile listening to him speaking with a real English accent and then just switching to Spanish. He actually helped me a lot when we flew to join up with the national team on the plane. The stewardesses were speaking English, so he helped me with the food, the safety instructions, things like that.”
Like a decade earlier, there does seem to be a growing Spanish-speaking influence around the club once again: Jeremy, Bruno, Rob Sanchez, Marc Cucurella, Alexis Mac Allister, Steven Alzate… even Danny Welbeck is rumoured to have spoken the odd word around the team canteen! A big influence off the pitch, certainly, but also on the pitch when the patter is particularly difficult to understand.
“The English boys speak so quickly, especially when we’re on the pitch!” he smiled. “I’m getting to understand it, learning new words, new phrases all the time, but it’s been so important to have the Spanish speaking guys here to help me.
“If there’s something the coaches are saying that I don’t understand, then Bruno is there to help and it’s the same on the pitch with the other guys. I think now the COVID restrictions are easy and I can mix more in the city, visiting restaurants and shops, my English will only get better. I also watch as much English TV as I can, as that is helping.”
English was also the language of choice during Moises’ recent loan spell at Belgian top-flight side Beerschot. He had made 12 appearances, scoring once, until he was recalled by the Seagulls last month in the absence of Yves Bissouma and Enock Mwepu. It was an experience he enjoyed and has helped him hit the ground running upon his return to Sussex.
“I was playing regularly and that was important,” he reflected of his time with the Antwerp-based club. “That helped me with my match fitness and it also helped me maintain my place with the national team. The football, though, is very different to the Premier League. It’s a good standard but not as intense as it is here. In England, the football is more physical, it’s faster and the players are very strong, tall, fast and athletic.
“But I feel good to be back here now. When Graham called me and said he wanted me to come back, I felt very happy. Now I have been back in the squad, I feel comfortable, like I belong here. It’s also good to be back working with the coach and his staff because he likes to progress the young players and every day I feel like I’m making progress by training hard, very intensive. I need that to help me adapt to the demands of the Premier League.”
Back in the fold, Moises made his second appearance of the season for the Seagulls in The FA Cup defeat at Tottenham – having made his debut at the start of the campaign in the 2-0 Carabao Cup win at Cardiff. Again, another high-profile situation he found himself in, but one in which he did himself justice, having come on in the 61st minute as a replacement for Solly March.
“It was a good feeling to come on and play in that stadium, which is the best in England,” he added. “Again, I felt nervous before I came on but once I got playing and took the ball, I forgot about the occasion, everything around me.
“It was all about focusing on the game and I made some good passes and some good ball recovery. It was a disappointing result for the team but it was a step forward for me. It felt normal to be out there, like I belonged.”
Caicedo lined up in midfield alongside Yves Bissouma, another player who has had an influence since he stepped back into the building. Comparisons have been made between the two and he’s happy to hear that.
“While I’m not at his level yet and much younger, I like to think I am a similar player in terms of the way I play. I can break up the play and I can push forward, I can do both sides, although I see myself as more of an attacking player.
“It’s great to have Yves to learn from though. He was always talking to me in the Tottenham game and I enjoy training with him as well. I learn so much from him and Adam Lallana is the same. He is there to help me and always has time to speak to me. I’m lucky that I have midfield players like Yves and Adam to learn from every day.”
Moises was also delighted to get up close and personal to Paul Pogba at Old Trafford last Tuesday night. The Frenchman was an idol growing up – along with another United player, compatriot Antonio Valencia – and so it was a special moment when the pair brushed shoulders at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
“As a midfielder, Pogba was always my favourite player,” he revealed. “I also liked N'Golo Kante, for the defensive side, but Pogba was the player who has always excited me, for the way he gets on the ball and breaks forward.
“Manchester United was always my team because of Pogba and, before that Valencia. He was a winger, then a right-back, and was strong, fast and very intelligent. He was the perfect player for the Premier League and if I can go on and enjoy a career like him, then it will be a dream.”
While these are still only early days, the signs are most certainly promising. The youngster from Santo Domingo has already come a long way in a short space of time, but he knows there is still much more to come.
“I have only just started out,” he pointed out. “I have much long to learn and much more to show. I feel I am in the best place to do that, in an exciting team, with an excellent coach and staff. The fans haven’t really seen too much of me yet but as the months pass and I settle in more, hopefully I can show what I can do. These are exciting times for me.”