Feature

Long read: Cedric on why Arsenal was his destiny

Cedric applauds the Arsenal supporters

Cedric Soares’ family has always had a huge influence on his career, and in fact his father played a crucial part in his eventual transfer to Arsenal – five years
before it happened.

It was back in 2015, shortly after Cedric had moved to England for the first time, when he joined Southampton from boyhood club Sporting Lisbon in his hometown. On a free weekend, Cedric, his agent and his father were at Emirates Stadium to watch an Arsenal game from his agent’s box, and it was there that Soares senior had his epiphany.

Cedric takes up the story: “Yes, I always speak to my agent about this,” he begins. “When I first arrived in the UK with Southampton, my father said I would play for Arsenal. We came to watch a game here at the Emirates, the three of us. My father turned to my agent and said, ‘This is the place where you need to bring my son.’ 

“This was back in 2015, my first year in the UK. My father now tells me that I am playing for the club that I wanted to be at. It’s actually crazy, and it’s true. When I left Southampton there were two big teams interested in signing me, and one of them of course was Arsenal. But in the end, it was an easy decision for me to make, because that had been in my mind.”

And did his father help make that decision when Mikel Arteta made the approach in January 2020? “No, I didn’t even tell him at first,” Cedric admits. “It wasn’t until I knew the move was serious that I called him to tell him. I didn’t want to excite him too early, in case there was a chance it might not happen, so I didn’t tell him anything at first. I didn’t want there to be a disappointment if I didn’t move. 

“So I waited, then I called him, telling him there was a meeting and they are interested. My dad was super happy, and my mum too. My brother supported me too – they were all super proud, and still are. They have been a great part of the journey.”

Cedric in action for Sporting Lisbon

And it’s a footballing journey that started way back in Cedric’s formative years. Born in Germany, he moved to Portugal when he was just two, and within five years had joined the Sporting Lisbon academy. Having an older brother who was also a player in his youth helped Cedric develop his passion for the game, but he says loving football is all he’s ever really known.

“Yes, me and my brother always played football together,” he recalls. “We were born with it, I think. It’s not something I ever had to push – it was natural, always just there, and we were competing together all the time. 

“We were playing one against one, shooting, wherever we were. He’s older than me so I always wanted to get up to that level. From a very young age, we were always very competitive with each other, and our father also played football so he encouraged us, and played with us – it was very nice.”

“My parents were always there for me, sometimes to motivate me, sometimes to criticise me"

A childhood of obsessing about football paid dividends when he made his professional debut for Sporting while still a teenager. And through all the highs and lows since then – the trophies (including the European Championships with Portugal in 2016), the transfers, the international appearances and the disappointments too – Cedric’s family has been a reliable, constant presence. 

“Definitely,” he says. “Family was one of the strongest parts of my journey as I grew up. I had my difficult times – as everyone does – and I had to overcome some difficult moments and situations in football. 

Cedric celebrates winning Euro 2016 with Portugal

“My parents were always there for me, sometimes to motivate me, sometimes to criticise me. There is a balance, but all the way through my journey they have been by my side, my brother as well. They were massively, massively important and they still are. I still call on their help sometimes. I have created this relationship with them. 

“Some people don’t really chat about football with their parents but I do. I do it a lot. They are very involved in it, they understand my point of view. They participate, they know when I am at my best and when I’m not. They know me better than anyone. This is our life, and I know that when I’m playing, they will be watching. It’s not even something I have to think about because I know they will be supporting me. 

“They try to come to the games when they can, my brother was actually over here recently for a week, and my parents try to come three or four times every season.”

"We didn’t get any money for playing when I was young, but I still did it every single day"

And the defender says it’s not just moral support that his family offer. They are actively involved and participate in his career, even advising on major decisions. “The final decision is normally taken by me,” he says, “but yes, as soon as there is something going on, I chat with them about it. They help me to take the right decision, but of course, it always comes down to me. 

“They don’t tell me what to do, but they help me see the pros and cons. We analyse the situation and that’s been the way for every transfer I’ve had. Every situation, basically. Also, the difficult times, when I’m angry, or disappointed not to be playing for example – whatever it is, they are there every day if I’m feeling frustrated and need to chat. It helps to get things out of your system.”

Being out of the team for whatever reason is often when Cedric turns to his family. Being laid low with injury, as he was when he first signed for us, is when a player can feel isolated, especially if his family live abroad.

Cedric warming up pre-match

“I think for footballers, at least speaking for myself, being injured is a nightmare,” the 31-year-old says. “You want to be part of it, to be there with your team. You want to be available so you can do what you enjoy. 

“It’s our job, I know that, but for me, it’s more than that. I will never look at it like a job. It’s a passion, but for me as well it’s about the competition side. I grew up like this. We didn’t get any money for playing when I was young, but I still did it every single day, in the rain, terrible pitches, whatever. 

“And I did that not just because one day I wanted to achieve something, but also because it’s a passion,” he adds. “I live it, and everything around it. So whenever that is taken away, it’s difficult.”

"You always end up back at football in some way. It’s my life"

In those difficult times, who does Cedric turn to first? Is it mum or dad? Turns out it’s neither. “Actually the very first person is my wife,” he reveals. “When I go home and I’m angry or upset, she is there for me to talk to. Either agreeing or not agreeing, but she is always listening. In the good and bad moments. 

“As for my family, normally in the difficult moments I will first chat with my mum. Then she is the filter to my brother and my father! Then probably my brother will text me one of his long messages, that’s usually more in a practical way, about what I should or shouldn’t do. Then my father will text me only when he feels it is necessary. He will not contact me for everything, but I know he is always there, and he gets upset for me too.”

Geography prevents the Soares family from being as tight-knit a unit as they were during Cedric’s Sporting Lisbon days, but he says they are still very close. “My grandparents too,” he adds. “My grandfather died a few years ago, but my grandmother is still alive and we are all very close, even though they all live in Portugal. My grandparents on my father’s side live in the north of the country, so we don’t see them as much, but we always try to come together for special moments.”

Cedric in training

So it has been a family affair throughout Cedric’s life and career, and although he’s now the only full-time footballer in the family, the topic still dominates conversation whenever they get together. And he believes it’s impossible for it to be any other way. “You always end up back at football in some way. It’s my life. 

“My parents have grown up this way too, following me, following my brother, so it has always been there. It’s natural that we always come back to this subject, whatever we talk about. We like to talk about general stuff, culture as well, and we chat about each other’s jobs too. My brother is a finance controller for Lidl, and he has a lot of responsibility. It’s very different to my job – he deals with numbers and is in charge of a lot for them. 

“My mother has worked for 30 years for Siemens, a very big company too, and my father works for my home town council back in Portugal. They all work, all have different responsibilities. We have always worked hard as a family, and this is part of it. Nobody wants to stop working, and they are all very proud.”

And as a family they are rightly proud of the achievements of Cedric so far, knowing they have all played their part in some way along the road.

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