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A celebration of Arthur Cabral

The big Brazilian has been an unexpected delight this year.

ACF Fiorentina v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

When Dušan Vlahović forced his way out of Florence, it felt like the death knell. Vincenzo Italiano had built Fiorentina into a fun, dynamic side, based around high pressure and a lethal number 9. His sale to Juventus hamstrung the Viola attack, which scored 1.82 goals per game with him compared to 1.19 without. His recent struggles with Juventus don’t obscure the truth: he was excellent in Florence.

And that’s what Arthur Cabral walked into. Bought for €15 million from Basel that same January, he picked up the yoke of expectations from the former Very Large Teenager. When our big Brazilian chungus didn’t immediately produce at a similar level, a lot of fans labeled him a bust; he even suffered the indignity of getting benched in favor of Krzysztof Piątek, who is the Cambridge dictionary definition of replacement-level veteran. Despite that, we remained pretty confident that il Re Arthur would come good.

And yeah, he’s come good. Our big, beautiful Brazilian boy has gotten his feet under him and become one of Italy’s most lethal finishers. Since mid-February (more precisely, the 16th), he’s scored 10 goals in 14 appearances, good for a goal every 88 minutes. In the same stretch, Vlahović has scored 1 goal in 11 appearances, or a goal every 868 minutes. You know me, and you know that I believe that context is everything. But Arthur is clearly 10 times better.

I’m not here to write about Cabral’s outstanding statistical profile over the past couple of months, though. I’m won’t try to convince you that Cabral is the best striker in the world, or in Serie A, or in northern Italy. Such absolutes aren’t a stock in which I trade, because claims like that leave one open to getting dunked on. And as someone who’s never been dunked on (quiet, Ondrej Duda), I don’t want to start now.

Instead, I’m going to talk about vibes. I understand that vibes are a big departure for me. I write a lot of stuff about data, about numbers, about the triumph of statistics. Despite that facade, though, my academic background is about as far away from mathematical analysis as you can get; I’ve got a literature degree, and I think that makes me an expert on vibes (it doesn’t).

King Arthur’s vibes are perfect. The most obvious recent example is his recent kickabout with some kids in the Piazza Tasso; I have no idea what he was doing in the neighborhood (Do I choose to believe he was going to dine at il Guscio? Yes I do.), but this is the kind of low-key episode—no handlers, no club staff, just a guy taking time out of his day to make some kids’ day—and even agreeing to play goalkeeper in their game, which is hilarious.

And it’s not just moments like that. Look at his reaction in the press conference when reporters asked him about it. The sparkle in the eyes. The smile. The almost bashful response. You cannot watch this adorable large man and not fall in love with him at least a little bit.

On the field, though, his vibes are equally without flaw. Just look at his interaction with Nicolás González over the penalty against Atalanta at the weekend: the Argentina international happily handed the spot kick over, and il Re Arthur duly slotted home, then pointed to González to celebrate as they ran to embrace each other. That mixture of confidence and esprit de corps is perfect.

It’s more than just how Cabal acts when things go right for him, though. Watch him after his misses. He doesn’t drop to the ground or stand there transfixed. He doesn’t pout. He doesn’t scream at his teammates. The most he’ll do is raise a rueful eyebrow and shrug, then get to his feet and work his tail off to get the next one, which is quite a departure from the last guy we saw wearing the Viola number 9.

ACF Fiorentina v Atalanta BC - Serie A
Not pictured: a guy seething at his midfield because the ball was two inches off and he missed the frame as a result.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Oh, and that work? Arthur is the definition of bustle. I’ve written before about how much I love watching him run: cheeks puffed out, back straight as a ramrod, shoulders back, chest forward, arms pumping at perfect 90° angles. He’s like a cartoon character, except that instead of pure comedy, he’s actually covering a lot of ground and making defenders very, very anxious.

And I think that’s what stands out more about Cabral to me than any of his other qualities: it’s how his approach makes defenders anxious. I don’t recall seeing a striker consistently time their challenges and their pressing so well, especially on high balls; he’s got this incredible knack for sprinting right at some poor sucker, holding off for just a half beat longer than expected, and then throwing his body in and winning the ball, or at least creating a bad touch that allows a teammate to take the ball the other way.

He’s like a mobile but localized black hole, causing inexorable destruction wherever he goes even though we don’t entirely understand how he works. Needless to say, his attitude and pressing make him a perfect fit for Vincenzo Italiano’s high-intensity approach to out-of-possession play. That he’s started banging in goals at an alarming rate means that he’s gone from functional to fantastic.

But it’s his attitude, that mix of earnestness and self-awareness, his willingness to run like his life depended on it but to back himself to score from anywhere (just wait until he hits one of those bicycle kicks), that’s started to bleed over to the rest of the team. We often talk about how a striker’s pressing sets the tone for the entire defense, and Cabral’s done that. But it’s not just his pressing: it’s everything about him. Fiorentina reflects him now, and Fiorentina is fun.

Long live King Arthur.