Cedric Soares: A New Dawn
As the ecstasy of Arsenal’s back-to-back wins at Wembley seeps into a new season, for Cedric Soares too, it is the beginning of a new dawn. For 152 days, he had been forced to wait. An “easy fit” in the dressing room, a lingering knee injury had forced the Portuguese full-back to watch impatiently from the sidelines, stuck with one foot inside the door. But after blocking out any outside whispers – with another winner’s medals now fastened to a glittering trophy cabinet at his home – one thought clung to him as he came onto the pitch against Liverpool in the FA Community Shield.
“There is always one piece of advice I give to myself,” Cedric says. “Especially before the game, when you need confidence. I remind myself of what brought me there, how I came to be at this level. I’m there for a reason. I fought for this. [Whenever you’re playing,] it’s important to be proud, to feel free.
“Of course, it hasn’t been easy,” he says of the five-month delay until his debut. “I missed playing. The Premier League is so special. I missed how football lives here, the atmosphere all around it, the fans. I’m a very football orientated person. Maybe, only if we’ve had a bad game, I’ll go out for dinner with my family or friends just to escape, just for an hour.”
But as the turbulence that engulfed Arsenal fuels a transformation, a state of panic pacified by Mikel Arteta and moulded from optimism into silverware, Cedric has found his feet. A four-year contract was hashed out in the twilight hours of June. Just 229 seconds into his belated first appearance, his deflected shot soared into the top corner against Norwich. The tone around the club has been lifted tenfold by that heady win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and Arteta has described him as the best attacking full-back at the club – a compliment and, perhaps, a slight aspersion wrapped into one.
“The role of a right-back has changed,” Cedric says in reference to the manager’s ideals. “When I started playing football, it was not a fancy position. I was a midfielder all of my youth career, but as a professional you see how important the new generation of full-backs are. You’re the extra man. Everyone always has the quality and wants to attack, but defence is my first job. If you play as a back four, a full-back needs to be complete, to defend well, especially in the Premier League. It’s a demanding job physically.”
Cedric is, of course, aware that cementing a starting position will be no easy feat. But what the club sees as necessary depth is also his opportunity, the challenge he long-desired to leave Southampton for, and he’s quickly developed close bonds with those whom he’s competing with for positions. “We are very close: Myself, Hector, [Kieran] Tierney, also [Sead] Kolasinac, Ainsley [Maitland-Niles]and Bukayo [Saka]. We are all working for each other, it’s a big group, we spend time together working on crossing and finishing after training, the small details defensively. We have a very good relationship. Arsenal is such a big family club and we all have to be there to help.”
For a player who’s shared a dressing room with Cristiano Ronaldo for almost seven years with Portugal – “a player who brings a lot of responsibility on the group, just pure motivation” – Cedric also recognises shades of those talismanic qualities in Arsenal’s captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s expected to commit his long-term future to the club shortly. “Everyone knows when Auba arrives,” he adds. “He is an important player, and important for the group [mentality] as well. He is a special guy. He likes to show up with his style too, he likes to make his mark.”
The topic lingers on style for a second, as Cedric redresses the cuff on his Burberry overcoat to sit just right on the wrist. “I really like Laca’s [Alexandre Lacazette] style, too,” he adds. “He’s very understated, very classic. Similar to me as I like my clothing to be very detailed, very simple, but always about the fit. I have a very clean image and I like everything to be with the right measures. I’m always very particular about that.” Cedric’s intricate approach to style is matched to his ‘balance’ that he claims to be his greatest strength. It’s why he never finds himself on the receiving end of some of the style stunts that occur in dressing rooms across world football.
“I have seen some crazy stuff,” he interjects. “It all depends on the country, but there are always a lot of jokes. If you come into training and someone doesn’t like your clothes they’ll let you know. Your clothes can be hidden, hung up in the middle of the room or left in the shower. I’ve even seen shoes hidden and carried all the way to the furthest pitch in the training ground.”
Cedric’s appreciation of style may be understated but there is one challenge he wants to lay down to his Arsenal team-mates. “I like to play tennis in the summer. It’s nice when you have a day off and have good weather to get out on the court. I know Granit [Xhaka] plays and Hector [Bellerin] and Dani [Ceballos] play together. I need to challenge them, we need a doubles tournament!”
United through a love of tennis and coupled with the jubilation of last season’s success, the signings of Brazilians Willian and Gabriel, and the continued emergence of a host of academy graduates, the ground at Arsenal suddenly feels a little more stable. Now, without any more time for waste – for him, or the club – it is time to raise expectations once again.
“In football, you always have to have a final goal for what you want to achieve in your career,” he says. “This is what you have in your mind to fight for. Not everybody does, but I like that pressure. It gives you more motivation, more responsibility.”
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