De Zerbi tells Brighton fans to back Caicedo after Seagulls foil midfielder's exit plan
Moises Caicedo deserves to be supported rather than shunned by Brighton and Hove Albion supporters after his failed attempt to force through a move to Arsenal.
That was the message on Friday from head coach Roberto De Zerbi, who said the 21-year-old midfielder was "a fantastic guy" who could still play a big role for Brighton in the second half of the season.
Caicedo went public with his desire to leave for what he described as a "magnificent opportunity" in an Instagram post that explicitly signalled his intentions.
Yet Brighton chairman Tony Bloom baulked at the idea of budging on his valuation of a star player after already losing Leandro Trossard to the Premier League leaders.
Brighton turned down two bids – reportedly of £60million and £70m, with £90m said to be the asking price – before the January transfer window closed, and De Zerbi was delighted the Seagulls kept Caicedo.
Arsenal instead spent relative pocket change on Jorginho, a £12m buy from Chelsea. It remains to be seen whether they return in the close season for Ecuador international Caicedo, who has been back in training with Brighton since Wednesday.
Brighton sit sixth in the Premier League at the midway point of their season and host lowly Bournemouth on Saturday.
De Zerbi said of the Caicedo saga: "I am very happy Moises stays with us until the end of the season. I want to speak to our fans because I want them to support him. I don't want them to criticise him. I love Moises, the people who work inside Brighton love Moises.
"I don’t know if he made a mistake or not, but the transfer market is closed, and the fans must follow me because I take the responsibility of him. If I say something so clear about Moises, they have to believe in me."
Caicedo is one of just three midfielders to have managed 50 tackles and 250 forward passes in the Premier League this season, along with Manchester United's Casemiro and Leeds United's Tyler Adams.
Arsenal would have found his numbers attractive, with manager Mikel Arteta looking to bolster a team who have shot to the top of the league and continued to win, keeping Manchester City at bay for now.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Caicedo did not delete his Instagram message once it became clear he would not get his dream move. It remained up on Friday, three days after the transfer window closed.
De Zerbi added: "I don't know the situation in the future, but he's a good guy and I want to defend him now. In other times I spoke a different way for the other players, but for Moises it's different.
"We need the performance of Moises. He's a fantastic guy, and so I don't want to listen to any criticism."