All he asked for was to become a professional player at Sao Paulo and to play a single game for the Brazil national team.
But God had other plans for Ricardo Izecson dos Santos, commonly and affectionately known as Kaka. A devout Christian engrossed in religion which was – and remains – the great part of his life, Brazil football icon leaves a legacy that came up short to his true football qualities.
He entered the bright stage calmly and gracefully in 2003 and less than fifteen years later he prepares for an even humbler exit as he steps down from the football stage at Orlando City.
A Discreet End to Something Beautiful
The 35-year-old former World Champion announced last Wednesday that he would not be returning to the MLS club in 2018 and has already played his final match for Orlando City in a home defeat to Columbus Crew.
Orlando City are wrapping up the regular season at the Philadelphia Union but Kaka is not expected to be in the team. With tears in high eyes before and after the match, Kaka has likely played the last-ever match of his professional career without the much-deserved fanfare and attention from the world and continent on which he earned his football fame and glory in particular.
Europe has never quite appreciated Kaka’s talents to full extent and his inconspicuous Orlando City exit – and highly likely retirement – almost went fully under the radar in European football community.
Kaka’s decision is not a sudden one as the Brazilian has already suggested he could hang up his boots to possibly pursue a career in management when he told Globo Esporte earlier in October that he’d like to ‘do like Zizou’ since he no longer finds joy in playing.
“I could do like him. Continue playing? I don’t find enjoyment playing football anymore, I feel pain after every match. My body feels it and at the age of 35 it’s hard to recuperate.”, he said.
A Lion with a Sparrow’s Heart
Though he concludes his professional football career as a Lion, Kaka has never been characterised with the strengths of the King of the Animals. More of a sparrow than a lion, Kaka danced. He did not roar. But has always been as destructive in his play.
He is best remembered for his AC Milan days during which he helped then Carlo Ancelotti’s side to the 2003/04 title in his maiden season. Ten goals for Rossoneri were just a small part of all Kaka used to bring to his team. The overall productivity in the final third and graceful effortlessness he used to glide past his opponents with are the two things that best describe him on the pitch.
Highly versatile and adaptive to numerous positions in the frontline, Kaka had been the main creative force at AC Milan behind Andriy Shevchenko and Pippo Inzaghi. Kaka’s style of play was incomparable to what the world has seen before – as much as it may sound strange for the new generation of football fans and aficionados who are growing up watching Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Majestic in movement and mesmeric with his footwork, Kaka was an elegant football angel – unstoppable and devastating in his stylish long-legged stride.
The Real Decline
Having packed one Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and Ballon d’Or accolades in his bag, Kaka waved his AC Milan family goodbye for what had been seen as a natural progression for a player of his calibre.
A move to Real Madrid was supposed to be the continuation and build-up on his already formidable legacy. Instead, it marked an end to a glorious career which never truly reached its peak.
Thrown in a group of players such as Raul, Karim Benzema, Guti, Gonzalo Higuain and the best version of Rafael van der Vaart you’ll ever find, Kaka struggled to find his place in the team. A combination of injuries and the arrival of Ronaldo from Manchester United saw Kaka’s path take a declining trajectory.
The curse of expectations caught up with him and four years at Madrid left Kaka trailing behind, attempting to catch up both with fitness and the growing Ronaldo-led squad. Unable to find his place in an ever-evolving Galacticos squad, Kaka was sent back to AC Milan for a recovery session which never gave result.
Conclusion to an Underappreciated Career
A short stint back at Sao Paolo also failed to have the remedial effect.
Kaka’s move to MLS – often undeservedly referred to as an elephant’s graveyard – helped the Brazilian icon reconnect with himself as a footballer. Three years in the American football made him a key figure in MLS and a captain for Orlando City where he showed glimpses – and nothing more – of his old ability.
The way he split defences with a razor-sharp pass or a precise shot on goal is still hard to fathom although Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi did well to upgrade Kaka’s style of play and majestic movement.
In the end it’s fair to say the world never quite got a chance to fully appreciate Kaka’s full talent. Whether a part of the blame should fall on his own shoulders is, however, a subject for a completely different debate.
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