Brighton newcomer Moises Caicedo is latest young star from Ecuador and may well be one of their best

First it was Manchester United, then clubs in MLS but ultimately, Brighton Hove and Albion have won the Moises Caicedo sweepstakes. The highly-touted 19-year-old joins the Seagulls from Independiente del Valle on a contract through 2025, with Brighton beating out some of Europe's biggest and best for a special player from a very special club.

Over the past 15 years, a tiny club from the outskirts of the Ecuadorian capital have established themselves as one of the best places to look for young talent. Independiente del Valle have a magnificent youth structure and have brought over specialist coaches from Spain with the idea of producing players, placing them in the shop window, selling them, and then promoting the next generation. They do this so well that, remarkably, they can go through huge transitions and squad turnover without suffering too much on the field.

Moises Caicedo is the best example so far. The central midfielder came through the youth ranks and was a key part of the side that won the Under-20 Copa Libertadores title. Meanwhile, Independiente del Valle were winning their first serious piece of senior silverware, the Copa Sudamericana, at the end of 2019.

The second midfielder in the side -- not as defensive as the first, not as attacking as the third in a central trio -- was Alan Franco. At the start of 2020, Caicedo was Franco's reserve; Franco was then sold to Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, where he's done well in Jorge Sampaoli's swashbuckling side. Moises Caicedo, then, was promoted, but the pandemic struck and he had to bide his time.

When the Libertadores returned in mid-September, it didn't take long for Caicedo to announce his presence, with one result in the opening week making everyone sit up. Reigning champions Flamengo of Brazil were thrashed 5-0 by Independiente del Valle and the man who got the ball rolling, still, two months short of his 19th birthday, was Moises Caicedo.

Earlier in the year, he'd said his role model was Chelsea's N'Golo Kante, though his goal against Flamengo made it clear that he could aspire to being much more than a defensive specialist. He burst forward with skill, athleticism, and intelligence -- exchanging passes, gliding down the pitch, and timing the run perfectly -- to get beyond the striker and score with a cool finish. It was all made to look so easy.

Ecuador's new coach, Gustavo Alfaro, was immediately enchanted. World Cup qualification for the 2022 tournament started roughly three weeks later and Caicedo was straight in the starting line-up -- alongside Alan Franco at first, only to then get picked ahead of him.

Caicedo's international career so far consists of World Cup qualifiers away to Argentina and Bolivia, and at home to Uruguay and Colombia -- three teams who made the last-16 in Russia 2018, plus the extreme altitude of La Paz. And with the same quiet ease that he took to making the Independiente del Valle first team, Caicedo has looked instantly at home, with Ecuador winning three of those four games, and doing so in style.

Caicedo is the first player born in the 21st century to score in South America's qualifiers, glancing in a header against Uruguay. He's also setting up goals with smart passes, clever little flicks, and imposing headers, as well as getting up and down the pitch like a thoroughbred athlete.

He picked up a muscular injury against Colombia on Nov. 17 and probably should have come off at half-time, but he and the whole team were enjoying themselves so much in the 6-1 thrashing that he played through it -- he may have made it worse. It was certainly unfortunate for the Copa Libertadores that he was ruled out of both legs against Nacional of Uruguay, who did little but defend for two goalless draws before winning a penalty shoot-out. Nacional then looked thoroughly out of their depth in the quarterfinal against Argentina's River Plate.

Had Moises Caicedo been fit, Independiente del Valle would have had a much better chance of breaking down Nacional, there would have been the tantalising prospect of two legs against River Plate, and we may even now be contemplating the second leg of a semifinal between Independiente del Valle and Palmeiras of Brazil.

It would have been a nice way for Caicedo to end his time at the club that developed him so impressively. But the story was always going to end with a move sooner rather than later and Independiente del Valle have prepared Moises Caicedo to climb the highest mountains. The next mountain up for the youngster is the Premier League.