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An Ode to Oro: Ricardo Kaká

The prince of Milan has called it a day

AC Milan v Parma Photo by New Press/Getty Images

"He will always try to go vertically rather than horizontally, He will never take the extra, unnecessary touch. He is a great champion,” said AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti who was bewildered by the Brazilian’s display at halftime in Old Trafford.

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite - aka Kaká.

AC Milan has seen some of the finest players to ever grace the pitch. The list of legends, is just too big for any sized paper to write down. The word Maestro, for most, is synonymous with Andrea Pirlo, but if your vocabulary is a little stronger, Kaka shares the same meaning too. The metronome of Ancelotti’s Milan, what could arguably the be the finest Milan side of all-time. The prince of Brazil, the boy with the platinum touch, the boy touched by Jesus himself has left the football pitch for the very last time.

Time spent with Real Madrid ruined Kaka. The narrative goes back to 2009 when ‘The Untouchable’ Brazilian signed for the Spanish powerhouse. Almost a decade later, not many have changed this opinion. The notorious injury-plagued time he had in the Spanish capital reminds me of Fernando Redondo who had a similar - perhaps worse, ending to a glorious career. That was the start of a dark era at San Siro for the red side of the city. Hope was losing its meaning, the other end of Milan, Inter, was getting ever so loud - Inter was making big strides in Europe as well as at home. Mourinho was smashing records and humiliating teams for fun. Milito’s shirts were selling across the Europe and Sneijder was becoming a fan favorite. The opulent kings of the European and Italian throne were reduced to mere pretenders.

In hindsight to all the despair in Milan’s camp and Kaka’s injury-prone shadow of himself, Kaka’s time in Milan was something to cherish. Kaka signed for Milan for a fee of €8.5 million from Sao Paulo FC. Bargain, right? Berlusconi described it as ‘Peanuts’ after the Brazilian got off to a flying start in San Siro and never looked back. His direct playing style, darting runs, ruthlessness and Milan’s counter-attacking abilities, were a match made in heaven.

Kaka’s start to his Milan career was astounding, considering the difference in nature between Brazilian and Italian football. The high footballing IQ and his ability to analyze things at a lightning-quick speed, helped in adjusting. Kaka’s first season was just the start and Ancelotti could see good things coming his way. The question was ‘Will he take his chances?’ His record replied. Kaka won the Serie A player of the year award ahead of legendary Maldini, Totti, world cup winners Buffon & Gattuso, and Shevchenko, who managed to win the most prestigious individual award, Ballon d’Or, in football world after scoring 17 times in the league. The following the season, Milan came back with more motivation than ever. Ancelotti's men topped their European Cup group with only one defeat at Camp Nou to Barcelona. Kaka was instrumental in all those victories and had solidified his place in the team. The team had some of the finest names in the history of Milan as well as in the world of football. Kaka, at age 24, was the youngest player in the team to make the starting XI, in a team surrounded by legends.

Milan drew Manchester United in the round of 16. Milan came to Old Trafford with 1-0 home advantage. The Pirlo-Kaka-Seedorf-Costa midfield was something else. The outing in Old Trafford was supposed to be different but it resulted in the same. Kaka rattled the crossbar few minutes before the halftime while Hernan Crespo - the wonder loanee from Chelsea, broke the hearts of Old Trafford once again. Milan went to another Quarterfinals at the expense of Ronaldo’s United.

The quarter final was a matter of life or death. Milan drew Inter - Rossoneri vs Nerazzurri, Mancini vs Ancelloti, Zanetti vs Maldini, Adriano vs Shevchenko. Milan left Inter reeling with a 3-0 defeat. Kaka was all over the pitch. Where Shevchenko got most of the praise and plaudits, Kaka with his deft touches and blistering pace, control the field at breathtaking pace.

Milan defeated PSV Eindhoven 3-3 on away goals when Ambrosini converted Kaka’s pinpoint cross to kill the hopes of the Dutch champions. Milan went on to the final, once again, their second in 3 years. And then the ever so infamous ‘Miracle in Istanbul’ happened to kill the hopes of, what was a great run for Milan. Kaka provided an assist in the final only to lose on penalties. It still hurts!

UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan v Liverpool
The miracle of Istanbul
Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images

The 04/05 season started in a great fashion but ended in a worse humiliation. Milan came second to Juventus in the league lost the UCL final to Liverpool. If that wasn’t enough, Milan was docked due to match-fixing. 05/06, ended in similar fashion - lots of hopes and eventually nothing to cherish for.

2006/07 season, saw vintage Kaka for Milan. The season he personified greatness with his humility and ruthlessness. The team was stumbled to 6th position initially and then reinstated to 4th due to the Calciopoli scandal. Those were desperate times. Performances were getting poor, the cathedral of football - San Siro was getting emptied, boos were echoing and Inter’s title-winning campaign erupted San Siro. The Derby della Madonnina was won by Inter, doing a double over the Rossoneri. The only positivity from that match was the late goal from Kaka, something to barely put a brisk smirk on fans’ faces. Milan lost successive games and Inter finished the line with flying colors of blue and black. The story has a flip side to it. In Europe, Milan was replicating Inter’s home form. Kaka was the name of the game, the man of the hour scored 5 of his 10 goals in the group stage of the competition. Without a doubt, he was the player for the group stages - slipping past markers, drifting through defenses, deft touches with a breathtaking signature burst of pace to change the direction of the play and marshalling the pitch with elegance, he had it all.

Next up was Bayern, which postulated a tougher opposition than either of group stage opponents for Milan. The tie has written Ricardo Kaka all over it. The first leg saw Kaka bursting down the by-line, eventually taken down, rather cynically, by Lucio to win the penalty. Kaka’s poised personality was on display as he slotted home, beating Oliver Kahn just to see Van Buyten’s late equalizer. The tie was wide open and return leg was to be played in Bayern’s Allianz Arena. The second leg was Kaka at his brilliant best, perfect for those who think stats are everything. Kaka was popping all over the pitch, creating spaces, stepping into them, finding passing lanes, he dictated the play. Milan won the tie 4-2 on aggregate.

25th April 2007 was the day when Kaka orchestrated the biggest piece of his footballing career. Serie A was already over for Milan. Ronaldo opened the scoring for Manchester United inside 5 minutes of the game. Kaka equalized with a two touch play, first to tear apart the defense and second to slot it home, a crafty finish. Kaka’s second goal was his one of the finest, if not the finest, of his career. That was plain brutality - also, an act of sheer artistry. While chasing a long ball, he outmuscled Fletcher - keeping his footings nodded the ball forward, flicked the ball over Argentine defender Heinze - still keeping his balance. He saw Evra coming to challenge the ball, so the Jesus boy watched it like the time has stood still and nodded once more to get clear of both Heinze and Evra, finding himself an acre of space in front of goal, one on one with Van Der Sar. And beat United’s no. 1 with a silky smooth finish into the back of the net. Rooney’s Fergie time winner settled the draw in United’s favor.

The return was to be played in the cathedral of football, San Siro and the bishop himself was ready to read the sermon in black and red stripes. Rain was pouring down in San Siro. 11 minutes into the first half, the last finest player of the world not named Ronaldo or Messi, gave the host the lead- paving a way for 3-0 victory. Kaka threw his hands in the air, took his shirt off as the rain pour down, saw his admirers in a stand, and looks up into the sky as his shirt read ‘I belong to Jesus,’ the celebration that will define his career.

Milan, yet into another final and this time, faced the old foes, Liverpool. Kaka couldn't find the net in Athens, albeit managing to outscore everyone that year in UCL. He was on fire that day, fighting for a statement, a redemption more than just a victory. He smashed Liverpool’s defense to smithereens with his lustrous touches. He provided the famous assist to Pippo Inzaghi to win the tie. Milan finally found redemption for Istanbul, Kaka won the hearts of everyone.

UEFA Champions League Final: Liverpool v AC Milan
He surely does!
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Kaka won it all with Milan. In 2009, Real Madrid broke the world record fee and signed Kaka from Milan. His 4 years stint in the famous white shirt was overshadowed by injury. He managed to score some sizzlers and lifted the La Liga in 2012 and Copa Del Rey before returning back to San Siro and Milan. The second stint wasn’t quite as glamorous as first. The club was struggling, and so was Kaka. He tore his abductor muscle in his first competitive start and was out for few weeks. He refused to accept any wages from the club owing to the injury, showing that class. On his return from injury, he scored the 100th goal for Milan, scored some more signature curling efforts in the UCL, but lost the famous and personified burst of pace. Kaka then moved to MLS to grace Orlando FC before going back home, to Sao Paolo on loan.

AC Milan v Austria Wien - UEFA Europa League
It’s time to come home.
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Kaka came back to San Siro, paraded the pitch. Smiles were all around but many tears were shed too. He was the boy who played his heart out for Milan. His ability to create something out of nothing, to find serenity in the middle of the chaos, to transform elegance from muddle will always be remembered. He was the perfect harmony between creativity and intelligence. A player from purest and rarest substance, a hero on and off the pitch that modern football craves, a master with a smile on his face and ruthless aggression in his feet, a magician, an oro boy, he was Ricardo Kaka - Our Kaka.