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Legends in Review – Kaká

Brazilian playmaker Kaká became one of the defining players of the noughties. His vision to pick a pass and drive the play forward for his team was unrivalled for a period and his unique style played a big role in influencing the midfielder’s role in modern European football. 

The extent of Kaká’s quality led him to become the highest paid player in professional football in 2008 when he earned around €8 million from football alone whilst playing for AC Milan.

Kaka – The Early Days

Kaká was born in Brasília, Brazil on April 22, 1982. His real name is Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite but he owes his nickname to his younger brother, Rodrigo, who was unable to pronounce Ricardo and instead referred to his older sibling as ‘Caca’. 

When he was seven, Kaká moved to São Paulo with his family. His footballing talent was recognised by his school initially who promoted him to join a local club, Whilst playing at youth level,Kaká was scouted by São Paulo FC, who offered the young superstar an academy place when he was eight years old. 

São Paulo FC – 56 Appearances – 22 Goals

Kaká was affiliated with São Paulo FC for much of his childhood and signed his first senior contract aged 15. But he would have to wait until he was 18 before making his debut for the club in January 2001. Kaká impressed in his first season for São Paulo and made 27 appearances and scored 12 goals. 

After two and a half years with São Paulo, where Kaká made over 50 appearances, he began to attract interest from a number of clubs in Europe. His first international call-up to the Brazil national team in 2002 led to AC Milan to make a move for the developing star, 

AC Milan – 270 Appearances – 95 Goals

AC Milan paid nearly £8 million to bring Kaká to the San Siro ahead of the 2003/04 season and he wasted no time settling in. In his first season in Milan, Kaká scored 14 goals and provided seven assists in 35 games. As a result, the Brazilian was nominated for both the Ballon d’Or and ‘FIFA World Player of the year’ in 2004. 

This set the tone for Kaká’s impressive first spell at AC Milan as the Brazilian rose to prominence as one of the best players in World football. The pinnacle came in 2007 when Kaká played a leading role in Milan’s UEFA Champions League victory. He scored 10 goals overall in the competition and set up the decisive second goal for Fillipo Inzaghi in the 2-1 final win over Liverpool.

Due to his exceptional performances in 2006/07, Kaká won almost every individual honour available in professional football. He was named European Player of the Year, FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d;Or. 

While he could not repeat his heroics in the Champions League in the following season, the Brazilian still racked up 15 goals and 11 assists the following season and 16 goals in his final season with Milan. 

Real Madrid – 129 Appearances – 29 Goals

By 2009, AC Milan faced financial hardship which forced the club to sell their best players. Kaká previously wanted to end his career with the Italian club, but after Spanish serial winners Real Madrid bid nearly £60 million for the Brazlian star in 2009, he left Milan for a new challenge. 

Kaká fit in perfectly for Madrid’s attacking style of play and linked up well with their other superstar players including Cristiano Ronaldo,Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil. 

He continued to impress with his creativity and set up 39 goals during his spell at Madrid and made history whilst representing the club. Kaká became the highest scoring Brazilian in the Champions League after finding the net in the 4-1 over Ajax in 2012 – an honour he held until Neymar overtook him in 2018. 

Kaká also helped Los Blancos to lift both the Copa Del Rey in 2011 and La Liga in 2012

AC Milan (Second Stint) – 37 Appearances – 9 Goals

After four full seasons in Madrid, Kaká returned to AC Milan in 2013 on a free transfer and was made vice-captain upon his arrival. 

Although his second spell was short-lived, only representing the club for one season, Kaká still contributed effectively, scoring nine goals and making seven assists in all competitions. However, this was not enough for him to stay at the club which led to a mutual termination of his contract with Milan at the end of the 2013/14 season. 

Orlando City SC – 75 Appearances – 24 Goals

Kaká signed for Major League Soccer side Orlando in 2014 and eventually became the highest paid player in MLS history. However, Oralndo had to wait until 2015 to enter the league so Kaká spent the remainder of the 2014 season on loan at his boyhood club, São Paulo FC.

Kaká was very successful with Orlando and won All-Star honours in his first two seasons with the club. He maintained his high footballing standards throughout his time in the MLS and, along with 24 goals, he continued to assist goals at an incredible rate, laying on 21 goals for his teammates in three seasons. 

Brazil – 92 Appearances – 29 Goals 

Kaká made his debut for Brazil in January 2002 against Bolivia. He went on to represent his country for 14 years and played his final game in 2016 – an international friendly against Panama.

Although he only played 19 minutes in the tournament, Kaká was part of Brazil’s World Cup winning squad in 2002. He played more of a starring role in his country’s back to back Confederations Cup wins in 2005 and 2009, contributing to four goals overall in the 2009 tournament. 

Style of Play

Kaká had all of the qualities a modern attacking midfielder needs. His vision to see a pass and play forward thinking football was on another level to his peers. 

He was not all grace though and often showed a raw physicality to his game when he had to, bumping off tackles and dribbling the ball forward with athleticism to draw opposition players in and lay off dangerous passes. This is how he became renowned for his exceptional ability to assist goals. 

Footballing Legacy

Kaká is one of the greatest Brazilian players to succeed in Europe. Few have copied his level of consistency over such a sustained period and his level of assists provided are more or less unparalleled to date, 

The creative Brazilian was almost unplayable for a short period in 2006/07 and his performances in the Champions League during this season provided some of the greatest highlights ever in the competition.