Ta-ta Kaká

Optimism and excitement is the mood in Orlando, Florida. Not just from the thousands of families descending upon Disneyland, but because they have a brand new football team with a brand new player to idolise.

That new team is Orlando City, and that player is Kaká.

The Brazilian has put pen to paper on a deal which made him the first designated signing for the franchise, who will begin playing in MLS in 2015, with the midfielder being sent on loan to his first club, São Paulo, in the meantime.

Despite the delirium, the Kakámania, with hundreds greeting the former Ballon d’Or winner at the airport, I can’t help but shake the feeling that we have missed out on something – A player who could have become something more. Upon reading the news, my initial thought, and I assume along with many others on this side of the pond and around the world, was “what a player he could have been.”

Granted, it’s a weird thing to say to yourself when you take into consideration all that he has accomplished in his career; a Serie A title, a La Liga title, Copa del Rey, Champions League and World Cup medals, although he was only on the pitch for a matter of minutes for the latter, amongst other various club and individual awards, including being named the best player on the planet in 2007. But this is a player who came into an AC Milan side at the age of 21, relatively unknown to many, including his manager, Carlo Ancelotti, and took the spot in the starting eleven from the likes of Rui Costa and Rivaldo.

The youngster brought great skill, intelligence and most importantly, dynamism and movement, to a Rossoneri side which was described by its Italian coach as “static” before the arrival of it’s new South American import whose £4.2m price tag was “peanuts” according to Silvio Berlusconi.

“Rivaldo is a personal friend and I spoke to him and the other four [Dida, Cafu, Roque Junior and Serginho] about the club and they all told me great things about Milan and said it was the best team to come and play in Italy for,” Kaká told a press conference back in 2003 – but one can’t help but feel that Rivaldo maybe wished he didn’t play a part in convincing this up and coming star to sign up as the pupil quickly became the master, the former Barcelona play maker became a deputy, and before long was plying his trade in Greece for Olympiacos.

We knew, again from our extensive scouting and analysis, that the key to winning a second Champions League in two years was shutting down Kaká,” Rafa Benítez explained in his book, ‘Champions League Dreams’, in reference to the final between Liverpool and AC Milan in 2007, illustrating the influence the number 22 held. It was the first half of the 2005 final in which he was particularly captivating to watch though, albeit a few years later when I was watching the DVD and not through my fingers as an 11 year old watching his team 3-0 down before half time.

Kaká with Steven Gerrard at full-time of Champions League 2007.

It wasn’t that he dominated the game in that first 45 minutes, if anything he was pretty quiet for large portions of it, but the old cliché of quality over quantity comes into play. His first touch of the ball drew a foul which led to Paolo Maldini’s first minute opener, his next few touches had him glide past Reds players – nut megging Xabi Alonso at one point – and putting Andriy Shevchenko or Hernán Crespo through on goal a number of times with only the linesman’s flag stopping the former from scoring the games second goal.

It was in fact the latter who would benefit from these moments of wizardry, twice, with the second coming via a spin past Alonso and a sliding defence splitting pass from the half way line greeting the on loan Chelsea striker just outside the penalty area leaving him with the easy task of lobbing Jerzy Dudek and making hard done by Londoners a bit happier about Luis García’s “ghost goal” in the semi final at Anfield. It was a goal which have been worthy of settling any Champions League final – Fortunately it didn’t.

Bringing on Dietmar Hamann curbed the magic and ended up winning Liverpool the cup this time, but Kaká had the last laugh two years later – Fittingly, winning the free kick which led to the first goal again, as well as setting up Filippo Inzaghi for his and Milan’s second.

If there was a stage for him to cement himself into the football history books then it was provided by Florentino Pérez as Kaká signed for Real Madrid. It was the beginning of Pérez’s second stint as president of Los Blancos and the Brazilian’s signature was the first of many as the new lot of Galácticos began calling the Santiago Bernabéu home. Turning down a very lucrative offer from Manchester City a few months before this was where he was suppose to play alongside the worlds best, dominating home and abroad, playing the key role behind the attackers as Zinedine Zidane once did. Well, in theory anyway…

What actually happened was Barcelona decided they wanted to dominate instead, and they wouldn’t be stopped no matter how much money was ploughed into the Spanish capitals crown jewel. As for Kaká, it proved to be a difficult time for him as injury after injury took it’s toll.

It’s these injuries, ones which made doctors fear that his career may be coming to an unfortunate and premature end, which stopped him reaching the level of the before mentioned Zizou and robbed football of another true great.

After José Mourinho left the Bernabéu this summer it would have been almost poetic had Ancelotti, who replaced the former Porto boss as manager, was able to come in and rejuvenate Kaká’s Madrid stay, but it just wasn’t to be as he left to return to the San Siro on a free.

Sparks of the old magic were still there at times, the knocks had taken away some of his dynamism and mobility but with the ball at his feet he was still able to bamboozle a defender or two and then slide a striker through on goal, but he was at this point very much out of the footballing spotlight which probably suited him better. Looking back from a personal point of view, there is somewhat of a personality clash between Kaká and Real Madrid on a whole. He had never really been your typical football playing celebrity.

Rather than looking to make the headlines and enjoy the fame a bit too much, the most important thing to him is his faith, which he attributes to helping him recover from a spinal fracture which could have left him paralysed at 18, and gives a portion of his weekly wages to his church. He was also made the youngest ambassador for the UN World Food Program in 2004.

A spell at São Paulo, a concept which he describes as “really satisfying”, now awaits this footballing magician before he begins his American adventure with Orlando City joining the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Jermaine Defoe and former Milan teammate Alessandro Nesta in MLS.

He leaves Europe as a player who will always be in the hearts of the Rossoneri faithful and leaves the rest of us with a tinge of sadness that he wasn’t able to give us more.

Massive thank you to James Nalton (@JDNalton) for his help when writing this article.


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