Roberto De Zerbi has urged Brighton fans to get behind wantaway midfielder Moises Caicedo for the remainder of the season.
Caicedo is poised to return to Albion’s matchday squad for Saturday’s home game with Bournemouth after failing to force a move before the transfer deadline.
The Seagulls turned down two bids from Premier League leaders Arsenal for the Ecuador international, while Chelsea were also reportedly interested.
Having last week expressed his desire to leave the club in an open letter posted on social media, Caicedo was given time off until the closure of the transfer window and missed Sunday’s 2-1 FA Cup win over Liverpool.
“I was always honest and clear with you and I want to also be this time honest and clear,” said Albion head coach De Zerbi.
“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 of Brighton love Moises, he’s a good guy.
“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 responsibility for him. And if I say something so clear about Moises, they have to believe in me.”
Caicedo returned to training on Wednesday following his short period of leave.
The 21-year-old, who has scored twice in 26 top-flight appearances for Brighton, has a contact until 2025.
De Zerbi is unsure whether Caicedo will remain at the Amex Stadium beyond the summer but continued to offer a staunch defence of the player’s actions as he alluded to Leandro Trossard’s recent departure to Arsenal.
“I don’t know,” replied the Italian boss when asked if Caicedo will depart Sussex before next season.
“I want to be responsible about him because I believe in Moises. 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 and he’s a fantastic guy and so I don’t want to hear criticism or anything more.”
Brighton will be without midfielders Adam Lallana and Alexis Mac Allister against the Cherries due to injury and suspension respectively, in addition to defender Levi Colwill (muscle).
Striker Evan Ferguson faces a late fitness test following a heavy challenge from Liverpool midfielder Fabinho, while Argentina Under-20 midfielder Facundo Buonanotte is in contention for his debut after his recent arrival from Rosario Central.
De Zerbi insists other members of his squad have not been adversely affected by the ongoing saga involving Caicedo.
“The other players love him and respect him,” he said. “I think they understood the situation because those who live inside football know very well this situation can happen.
“But if there isn’t a problem for me, there isn’t a problem for anyone.”
Bournemouth travel along the south coast in the relegation zone and without a win since November 12.
With the Seagulls heavy favourites for victory, De Zerbi suggested the fixture could prove trickier than taking on Liverpool.
“We have to win because the fans, the journalists, the people think tomorrow is a simple game but it’s totally different in football,” he said.
“Tomorrow I think can be more difficult. Liverpool is a stronger team than Bournemouth but the game is a different way. To win tomorrow we have to play a perfect game.”