It will be interesting to see how we look back at the career of Kaka. Will it be fond memories of one of the magicians of the game who experienced a slump in his career during his time at Real Madrid? Or are we seeing evidence of the spectacular and hugely saddening decline of one of this generation’s very best?
The Kaka of old forces memories of his dismantling of Manchester United on the rain-soaked pitch at Old Trafford, one notable act of deception which saw two United defenders collide with one another and end up with muddied shorts; a wonderful and comical image of the good guy escaping the grasp of the unrelenting villains. What about that pass for Hernan Crespo two years earlier in Istanbul in the Champions League final?
Unquestionably one of the best players in the world at the time, an ambassador for the game and one who looked set to spark a glorious three-pronged battle with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the prestigious personal accolade.
Rumours surfaced last year that Kaka would be on his way back to Brazil to salvage whatever was left of his career, but since then a small renaissance under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid has given new hope.
Kaka hasn’t lost it, that much I’m sure. He has, however, felt the sting of injuries and the difficulty of a manager of really doesn’t appear to fancy him as a key member of the squad. What we’ve seen from Kaka in small bursts over the past few months has provided evidence that there is still plenty in the tank, even for one last big hurrah in the Premier League.
It’s always pleasant to look back at Kaka’s contributions for Milan, but his recent performance away to Ajax in the Champions League was equally inspirational. On the night, Ronaldo bagged a hat trick and Karim Benzema scored a wonderful overhead kick to give Madrid the win. The man of the match performance, however, came from Kaka, and that was an attacking trio we should have seen much more from. It was interesting then that calls rained down for the Brazilian to be included in the starting XI for the next match—the Clasico against Barcelona.
In the Amsterdam Arena, he ran himself into the ground, while never really losing his elegance or seeming like a washed-up impostor. Some may say that it was only Ajax and that we shouldn’t get too excited, but we’d seen performances of that quality from Kaka in the recent past too. And let’s also not be too dismissive of the Dutch champions; their win over Manchester City was of the highest quality, and their desire to play attractive football is always admirable.
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Kaka doesn’t have the legs to glide past defenders in the way he used to, but not all of the magic is lost. You do get the sense that he really does just want to play football, despite his recent sending-off in La Liga against Osasuna. Those two separate bookable offences could have been the result of frustration on his part; it also could have happened to anyone else in a Real Madrid shirt.
The questions against Mourinho remain: why didn’t he start Kaka in the draw at Osasuna? The attacking midfield three of Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Jose Callejon clearly lacked any imagination or direction, as their performance went on to prove. Mourinho may favour Modric at this stage due to his recent arrival, but on the whole it wasn’t happening for the midfielder. Callejon may have talent and fight, but he’s not an adequate replacement for either Ronaldo or Ozil, while I maintain that Di Maria has been the biggest disappointment so far this season of the high-profile names at the Bernabeu.
There are teams in the Premier League who can offer Kaka an escape out of Madrid and a chance to relive his glory. His ability to play in a quick attack hasn’t dwindled, while a good run in a team may once again show why he was one of the finest creators in the game.
He’s 30, and that might be a small shock to the system; where has the time gone? A move back to Milan would be a little disappointing as I believe he has plenty left for a new chapter in his career rather than revisiting an old one. I’m sure he’d take a notable drop in wages from his current pay packet in Spain, yet that would still likely fall to a number that remains outside many clubs’ comfort zone.
Kaka’s age and lack of significant game time would obviously suggest that he’s declined, and that’s not an unfair assessment. But such were the height of his powers at one time that he has regressed into a player who can still claim to be one of the best attacking midfielders on the continent. How many clubs in England would turn their noses up at the Brazilian?