In these days of exorbitant transfer fees, it comes as a surprise to find that there are still bargains to be had. Real Betis can vouch for that, having picked up one of the revelations of the Spanish league season so far for the princely sum of €1.20.
The player in question is the Congo-born Cedrick, who showed what he is capable of when the Andalusian side travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid earlier in the season. Fast, impish and a devilish dribbler, Cedrick left defensive rock Sergio Ramos floundering and served notice of the threat he poses opposition defenders.
In conversation with FIFA.com, the young wide man, who has just made the step up to the top flight after three seasons in Spain’s second tier, said: “When you play against a team like Real Madrid you try to do your very best. And because they’re such a big side who are known all over the world, then the impact you make always tends to be that bit bigger. I’m very happy right now. I feel comfortable and I hope I continue to feel like that for a long time.”
Laying down roots
To watch the 21-year-old, who stands less than 5ft 7ins tall, in action it is hard to believe that he has spent a mere three months in the Spanish elite. Yet Cedrick has settled down quickly at Betis, wasting no time in winning the affections of his team-mates, thanks in no small part to his gift for singing flamenco.
Taking up the story, he said with a smile: “The new players in the team had to go through the usual initiation stuff. We were told we had to do a song, so I picked one by Camaron (a famous flamenco singer) because I knew they’d think, ‘He’s a foreigner and he won’t like flamenco. He won’t have a clue’. But the fact is, I do like it and I sang pretty well.”
While it might seem strange that a Congolese should be well versed in the ways of a typically Spanish art form, Cedrick is far from a stranger to the country, having spent nearly half his life there after moving with part of his family at the age of 12. “We came from Africa in search of a better life,” he said. “I found the language hard to start with but I gradually got to grips with it.”
Football did the rest. The young Cedrick joined a youth team called Santa Marta and after catching the eye with his speed and skill on the ball he signed for Atletico Madrid within a few short months. “I spent some wonderful, unforgettable years there,” explained the player, who continued his apprenticeship with a loan spell at Numancia before eventually signing for the Soria club.
The contract he put his signature to included an unusual but important clause: should a first division club come in for him, he would be free to leave for a nominal fee. And so when Betis came calling they paid no more than the cost of a loaf of bread.
A lover of Latin music and a keen reader, Cedrick also has a good sense of humour, a point he proved by posting a photo of himself dressed as a bullfighter on one of his social network accounts. He also prefers to focus on what the future might hold rather than his past, which was troubled at times.
“There are countries in Africa with many problems and a lot of poverty,” he explained. “I didn’t have an easy childhood there, though I choose not to think about it too much because I want to focus on positive things. It was tough to get out, but I’m very happy I put the work in and made the sacrifice to get where I am now.”
The youngster has in no way forgotten about his roots, however: “I haven’t been back to Congo since I left but I’ll definitely be returning soon. I really feel like going back and seeing the members of my family who stayed behind.”
His desire to represent the African nation at full international level is an indication of how strong those ties are: “My dream is to play for Congo one day. I’ve made my debut for the U-21s and I hope to do so soon for the senior team.”
A muscle problem prevented him from appearing in the country’s make-or-break 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier with Niger earlier this month, a game that ended in a draw, dashing Congo’s hopes of reaching the final round.
Despite that setback, Cedrick is already thinking ahead: “I’m still young and I think I’ll have the chance to play for my country in many competitions. And if we make it to the World Cup one day, we’ll enjoy it as much as we can.”
In football as in life, there is no question of Cedrick looking any other way than forward.