x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

New Al Jazira forward Caicedo has point to prove

Well-travelled Ecuadorean expected to spur Abu Dhabi club’s push for the Arabian Gulf League title, writes Andy Mitten.

Felipe Caicedo, left, of Al Jazira, dribbles past an Al Wasl defender during their Arabian Gulf League match in Dubai. Afsal Sham / Al Ittihad
Felipe Caicedo, left, of Al Jazira, dribbles past an Al Wasl defender during their Arabian Gulf League match in Dubai. Afsal Sham / Al Ittihad

With limited resources, mounting debts and a half-empty stadium for most games, the Spanish Primera Liga club Levante need to be enterprising in the transfer market.

Their policy has been to catch still-youthful falling stars and re-ignite their careers.

They took Ivorian striker Arouna Kone on loan in 2012, four years after Sevilla paid €12 million (Dh60.2m) for him.

He had scored just one goal for Sevilla in that time, but he was so successful at Levante they had to rest him because he was scoring too many goals and Sevilla were about to recall him.

Obafemi Martins was another immediate hit. Levante approached the Nigerian striker in 2012, just two years after Russian side Rubin Kazan paid €17m for his signature.

He had played just 20 times for Kazan before moving to Birmingham City on loan in the English Premier League, where he scored the winning goal in the 2011 League Cup final against Arsenal, before returning to Russia.

With no future apparent at Kazan, Levante signed him for free on a two-year contract – an incredible feat given his pedigree of playing for Inter Milan and Newcastle United, whom he cost €15m in 2006 and became the first man to wear the coveted No 9 shirt after club legend Alan Shearer had retired.

Martins scored four in five games and, ever the showman, celebrated each with an elaborate back flip. One was the winner in the Valencian derby.

Ecuadorean striker Felipe Caicedo was arguably Levante’s most profitable coup. They signed him for free from Manchester City in 2010, then sold him for €7.5m to Lokomotiv Moscow less than a year later.

Caicedo’s goals ensured that Levante rose up the league from a relegation-threatened position to the top half of the table in the 2010/11 season.

“When we got him from Manchester City,” their sporting director Manolo said when The National spoke to him in early 2011, “we benefited because other deals had fallen through for him.

“City wanted to sell him, but there were no buyers. So we really pushed for him and City were good to deal with. We signed him one hour before the deadline with an option to buy him.

“City still pay most of his wages, but we give him football every week in a very good league. I think he likes it here.”

It was not as though Levante could have paid a transfer fee for Caicedo. They have not paid for a player for more than five years, during which time 38 professionals have made their way to Manolo’s office.

Like the others, Caicedo used Levante to resurrect his career. It says much about Levante’s financial limitations that they were outbid for Martins by Major League Soccer franchise the Seattle Sounders, while Kone moved to then-Premier League Wigan Athletic. He is now at Everton.

Caicedo’s move to Russia worked out well, though not spectacularly so. He scored 11 times in 52 matches for the Moscow club.

He has never been a prolific goal-getter, more a powerful centre-forward to hold the ball up and bring the other attackers into play, but he had only managed one goal in 13 league games this season and that a header in a comfortable 5-0 win against Hansa Rostock.

After being a regular starter at the beginning of the season, Caicedo’s lack of goals meant he started four of his side’s last six games from the bench before his transfer to Al Jazira on January 16 for a reported €6.1m.

Born in Ecuador’s biggest city, Guayaquil, by the Pacific Ocean, Jariza’s new player is only 25 and has already played 46 times for World Cup finalists Ecuador, scoring 15 goals.

Caicedo can play on each side of an attacking front three, too, but he is strongest as a centre-forward.

His last international was against Argentina in November, and he said he hopes Ecuador can impress in a World Cup group containing Switzerland, France and Honduras this summer in Brazil as much as they did in qualifying, where they finished fourth, ahead of Uruguay.

England will play Ecuador in a Miami friendly ahead of the World Cup finals.

It does not reflect well on Caicedo that he is at his seventh club at 25, but three of those clubs were loan deals.

His arrival in Abu Dhabi should help last season’s third-placed team push for the title this time around.

He will also be a big asset in the 2014 Asian Champions League for Walter Zenga’s side. Just ask Levante.