Ivan Soldo poses during Port Adelaide's 2024 team photo day at Alberton Oval. Picture: AFL Photos

IT'S BEEN a long and winding road, but Ivan Soldo is finally the No.1 man, and he's absolutely thriving.

After nearly a decade at Richmond, understudying in the ruck for Toby Nankervis (and winning a flag along the way), Soldo made the switch to Port Adelaide.

The younger cousin of Tiger favourite Ivan Maric, he grew up playing soccer and then basketball, signed as a Category B rookie when he turned 18, and played his first proper game of football later that year with the Northern Knights as the rawest of raw prospect.

Six weeks into his Power career, he's putting up career-high disposal numbers (11.4), clearances (4.0) and hitouts to advantage (11.4, up from 7.9 last year). His overall hitout numbers, while not quite at his best-ever levels, have also risen year-on-year from 22.8 to 31.0.

Of the players in the top 10 for total ruck contests, Soldo has the second-best hitout to advantage percentage (36.8) behind Tim English. For comparison, the in-form Max Gawn is sitting at 29.2.

Ivan Soldo competes with Max Gawn in the ruck during the match between Port Adelaide and Melbourne at Adelaide Oval in R3, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"It seems like so long ago I even had the opportunity to even just try football, and now it's my full-time job. It's become my personality, in a way – you spend your whole life becoming an elite athlete, and it becomes your personality. It's changed me in the way I've lived my life, and I wouldn't change it for the world, don't get me wrong," Soldo told AFL.com.au.

"I always walk off the field a little bit [annoyed] at things that didn't go my way. I'm not the perfect footballer, and I never will be, but if I get close, I'll be happy. As long as the team wins and I play my role, I'm always quite satisfied.

"But individually, I'm never trying to be the star, I just want to make sure I'm doing the right thing for the team and it's so good to see all the midfielders I'm playing with now doing so well, it gives us a lot of confidence, and I get reward off that, to be honest."

Soldo's first official year on Richmond's books was 2015, taken in an astonishing rookie draft that netted the Tigers Jayden Short, Kane Lambert and Jason Castagna. He's experienced the rapid rise (and recent slow slide), and knows what elements can contribute to a successful club.

An injury-hit Port Adelaide went out of finals in straight sets last year. The recruiting team was aggressive over the trade period, bringing in Soldo, ruck support Jordon Sweet and key defenders Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher to help patch some holes.


Boosted by the acquisitions and a humming midfield group, the Power currently sit third.

"I think every team in the competition is fit enough and strong enough, and there's obviously injuries along the way and all those sorts of things. But the industry itself – there were some really good people [at Richmond], like Brendon Gale and Peggy (O'Neal) and all those important, key pillars," Soldo said.

"'Richo' (Port Adelaide CEO Matthew Richardson) here now has been so important for the way the club is looking towards the future. It's really good to see, from the top down to the bottom and all the people in between, they're all committed.

"I've been at a club when things have gone really well, but there's always room to grow with these sorts of things. Win or loss, there's a really good learning mentality at the club that's probably the key to being a successful organisation, to be continuously learning."

Miles Bergman and Ivan Soldo during the round five match between Port Adelaide and Fremantle at Adelaide Oval, April 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Soldo is settling well into life in Adelaide, finding his own passion for food and wine has found a perfect match in the city's culture.

"Adelaide's been really welcoming, the people here are so good. I've been very fortunate to have already seen a couple of events here, Gather Round and the Fringe Festival, and we've been travelling a bit, which is nice. The food and culture is amazing, the wine regions, it's a good city," he said.

"I have a bit of a palette, I like the finer things, within what I can enjoy, you have to be smart. I think there's a bit of soul here when it comes to their food culture, which is great, because it's something that Melbourne's really passionate about.

"Dream meal? How much time do you have? If it was a last meal, it'd probably be just a really good steak, to be honest, but it'd have to be a really quality cut, with some really nice sides. I've been enjoying my French dining as well, bit of Entrecote as well.

"I've got a European background, so hearty foods are always something I can't say no to. Cevapi, it's like a mince sausage that the Balkan region owns."

At 28 and now living in a third city (he spent the first 18 years of his life in Canberra) he's got one eye on his post-football career, but isn't quite sure which direction he'll head in.

"I'm so spoilt for choice when it comes to things I could study and what I'm interested in. I'm trying to narrow it down to something I can move on with – I'm currently studying business finance, which is quite broad," Soldo said.

"I'm starting a coaching course as well, seeing if I can tap into some development coaching later in my career.

"I'm someone who had to work pretty hard as a raw footballer and I've had injury adversity (including a torn ACL) as well, so I've had some time away from the game to think through things. Port, also Richmond but definitely Port, really want to push the envelope when it comes to that sort of stuff, because they know how important football can be to people, but just as important is the off-field development."