As the last of AC Milan’s modern legends retiring, Ricardo Kaka has forever etched his place in history as the lynchpin to a time before Messi and Ronaldo.
While both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are arguably the best players of their time and among the best in the history of the game, there was a time sans the two, when mortals ruled the world and Ricardo Kaka was the last among them. While said mortals are still among us (Andres Iniesta, Frank Ribery, Manuel Neuer to name a few), the Brazilian was the last human being, as many have called him to beat either Ronaldo or Messi to an individual title.
But, given his steep decline after 2007, many simply forgot about the Brazilian genius, while others moved on to new heroes in a Portuguese and an Argentine. And with injuries playing a major toll on his Real Madrid career, he slowly disappeared from the spotlight. But despite that, there were moments, in his time at the Bernabeu where he enthralled and showed why he was once the most expensive player in the world.
Despite a growing bromance between the two multi-million players, Kaka struggled to keep up with a certain Portuguese starlet who had just arrived from Manchester United. And with Florentino Perez looking to create his new Galacticos, there was no place for a has-been Ballon d’Or winner, who could never keep himself fit. But, that never stopped Kaka to shine albeit a little less brightly among the stars of the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Begining; Move to AC Milan and the start of something amazing:
His arrival at AC Milan wasn’t met with the kind of pomp and celebrations that it would have greeted him today, a young 21-year-old having just won the World Cup with Brazil, with so much of potential and talent. Kaka had wowed both his fans and critics alike at Sao Paulo and thus earned both a call-up for the 2002 World Cup and a move to San Siro.
However, for AC Milan things were finally looking up and after a rather empty three odd years (they last won a trophy during the 1998/99 season) the team was at their very peak having just won the double, including a Champions League crown. However, like always they were looking to move forward and end their rivals Inter Milan and even Juventus’ reign over the Serie A, which was when Kaka walked into the team.
However, that never fazed him and despite walking into a team with the likes of Rui Costa, Andrei Shevchenko, Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi, Rivaldo, Clarence Seedorf and so many more, Kaka shined so brightly. The 21-year-old’s very first season showed exactly why then club president Silvio Berlusconi called his £6 million trasnfer fee “peanuts”.
With his pace, vision and even strength, the wiry Brazilian shocked and awed the San Siro and helped himself to his first and only Scudetto. However, while Kaka and AC Milan wouldn’t win another league title for quite some-time, they continued to play well in the league and finished continuously in Champions League spots.
The Brazilian evolved over time and soon became one of AC Milan’s most dangerous players, scoring and providing assists consistently, despite the club being involved in a League-wide scandal and even several key players leaving including the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Christian Vieri, among various others.
The 2006/2007 season
However, come the 2006/7 season AC Milan were struggling and with the Calciopoli scandal and having been docked eight points they were further pushed down into fourth place. That’s why simply looking back at Kaka’s 06/07 season isn’t simply enough as this is the one time the stats don’t do justice to the player.
The Brazilian did have an immense season, finishing with 18 goals and 10 assists in just under 50 appearances, which seems like nothing in a time when scoring at least 50+ goals is the new normal thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
But then again, Ricardo Kaka was never like the two players and watching him playing for Milan in the Champions League showed exactly why he outdid both to the 2007 Ballon d’Or. With five goals in the group stages, the midfielder was too hot to handle and even bagged himself a hattrick against Anderlecht. However, it was the knock-out stages that Kaka showed his mettle, leading Milan into the finals scoring or assisting in every game bar one 0-0 draw.
While many consider the Manchester United clash over two legs his piece de resistance of that season, and it certainly is, for me personally it was his decider against Celtic in the second leg that showed how good he was. With Artur Boruc putting up a wall of a performance, refusing to let anybody score past him in either legs, it took a rather unstoppable run from Kaka to end the deadlock, just three minutes into extra time.
A perfectly placed pass by Massimo Ambrosini set the Brazilian free and off he ran bearing down on Boruc’s goal, like a cheetah after its prey, outpacing anybody behind him and then simply tricked Neil Lennon, before coolly finessing it past an outstretched Boruc. This wasn’t the first time, the then 25-year-old had done something like that and it certainly won’t be his last and while it certainly wasn’t the best finish he had ever produced(that would be against Manchester United, a few weeks later), it showed his mettle.
After a rather frustrating week, the Brazilian had failed to score in his last five league games and then for Artur Boruc to put up a defensive wall of a performance against a rather rampant Milan, with 20 shots to Celtic’s 4. But then again the game was waiting for someone to step up and do something brilliant and Kaka did exactly that. And there was nothing the Polish international could do but watch as his team, haplessly conceded to arguably the greatest player in the world at the time.
Philip Lahm recently said that the Ballon d’Or has become a thing that only attackers can win, or rather goal-scorers. And there are few people in the world who would disagree with the World Cup-winning German, especially when over the last ten years two players have dominated the trophy by scoring and mesmerizing fans and critics alike with 50+goals a season each!!
However, before that, there was one man who was handed the Ballon d’Or, as both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo watched on and while he would never make another podium again, Ricardo Kaka was the king of football at that moment.
The post Ricardo Kaka: A Tribute To The Last Mortal To Win The Ballon d’Or appeared first on The12thMan.