Kaká: Divine Gift

According to Kaká, everything he has is a gift from God. At the age of 18, he fractured a vertebra in his spine, having hit his head on the bottom of a swimming pool after coming down a waterslide. It was feared that he would be paralyzed, and that his career would be over. Yet he was able to make a full recovery within weeks, a miracle he attributed to deity. Whatever you may or may not believe, anyone who had the opportunity to watch Kaká play for Milan knows that he was the divine gift.

Who is gifting whom?

Kaká came to Milan at the age of 21 in 2003, practically a gift from Sao Paulo, his transfer fee was a meager €8.5 million. The attacking midfielder burst into the starting lineup just like he would burst into a full-speed dribble whenever he got the ball. Playing behind players like Inzaghi and Shevchenko, he scored ten goals and had five assists in Serie A in 30 appearances his first season to help Milan win the Scudetto that year. He would also score another four goals in ten appearances in the Champions League in his first season. He was also one of three Brazilians to start for Milan as they won the Supercoppa in August of 2004, with Dida and Cafu the other two. Kaká was named both Serie A Footballer of the Year and Serie A Foreign Footballer of the year in 2004.

Always looking heavenward in gratitude

The 2004-05 year saw Kaká’s unique combination of elegance, finesse, and speed win him more accolades. Although he only scored seven goals in Serie A, he tallied an amazing 13 assists in 36 appearances. He also scored two goals and had five assists in 12 appearances in the Champions League, earning him the UEFA Champions League top assist provider and UEFA Club Midfielder of the year. He had a hand in all three goals in the Champions League Final vs. Liverpool that year, and also made his penalty, even if Milan lost the trophy on penalties in Istanbul.

Kaká with Ancelotti

The mystique of Kaká was growing every season as he became an increasingly important player for Milan. In the 2005-06 season, after 14 goals, including his first hat trick, and eight assists in the league in 35 appearances, once again, he was named Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year. His five goals and an assist in 12 starts in the Champions League also earned him the UEFA Champions League Bronze Foot. This was the first of three consecutive years that he was nominated for the FIFPro World XI, and one of three years he was named to the UEFA Team of the Year.

The year that Kaká turned 25 would be a golden year for both him and for Milan.  After three previous nominations, he would finally win the 2007 Ballon d’Or for best footballer in the world. And this was at a time when more than two players fought for the title year after year.  He was literally the best player in the world. In Serie A, with eight goals and six assists in the league in 31 appearances, he would again claim both Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year and Serie A Footballer of the Year for the 2006-07 season.

Kaká with Ballon d'Or

Often wearing his trademark black gloves, and with pace that was as mesmerizing as his skills, he continued to dazzle fans and win at everything. In the Champions League that season, he scored ten goals and three assists in 13 matches, which earned him the title of UEFA Champions League Top Scorer. Milan would wreak a 2-0 revenge on Liverpool in the Champions League Final after the tragedy in Istanbul in 2005.  Once again, Kaká assisted both of Inzaghi’s goals in the final. That summer, he would also score Milan’s third goal with a headed rebound from a penalty as they beat Sevilla 3-1 to lift the UEFA Super Cup. The trophies were flowing when Kaká was at Milan.

Kaká with his trademark black gloves

As if winning the Ballon d'Or, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup were not enough, Kaká's individual honors were literally piling up. Other accolades that same year included the FIFA World Player of the Year, the FIFPro World Player of the Year, and UEFA Team of the Year. He was also UEFA’s Club Forward of the Year as well as their Footballer of the Year. He was also named World Soccer Player of the Year in 2007. And, as if that wasn’t enough silverware and titles  for a year, Milan also won the FIFA Club World Cup by defeating Boca Juniors 4-2 in 2007. It was Kaká, of course, who won the Golden Ball and was the top assist provider awards for that tournament as well.

So many trophies

The 2007-08 season saw Kaká score an incredible 15 goals and ten assists in 30 appearances in Serie A. In the Champions League, he made eight appearances and scored two goals and two assists. He was unstoppable, and yet always a gentleman in battle. He was also named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, both for his on the pitch and off the pitch endeavors, an honor he was given the following year as well. 

The player’s 16 goals and nine assists in 31 appearances that season saw Milan finish third in the league in 2008-09. This consistency in performance once again earned him a spot in UEFA's Team of the Year. There was massive drama midseason as Manchester City made a bid of over £100 million for Milan’s Brazilian star in January. Milan fans protested outside of club headquarters, and also outside Kaká’s apartment, where he famously waved his jersey to fans out his window. He opted to stay at Milan, making fans happy for one more transfer window. 

Reassuring the fans

That summer, however, when Real Madrid came in with a €70 million offer, Kaká left Milan. It was largely reported to be a “big money” move, to help with the club’s finances, similar to Shevchenko’s move to Chelsea. The moves would help Berlusconi and Galliani balance their poorly managed accounts, but they quickly lost the trust of the people buying the tickets to see the games. Fans were crushed, as they had hope Kaká would “grow old” at Milan like he had said just six months earlier. Despite the heartbreak of his absence, Kaká was inducted into the AC Milan Hall of Fame in 2010.

After some nagging injuries and slightly disappointing performances at Real Madrid, Kaká tried what no one has been able to do successfully: come back to Milan after leaving. Whether it was because they left for money and then tried to atone, or that they simply were past their prime, or both, it didn't work for the players or the fans. Galliani signed Kaká back for the 2013-14 season. In 30 appearances for the club, he scored seven goals and made four assists. In six Champions League appearances, he scored two goals and an assist. But his injuries impacted his pace, and the club was already falling apart, having not renewed after their 2007 Champions League win. Without the Senatori, and with all of the other factors, there was no way that the golden Kaká of previous years was going to enchant fans once again.

Once you leave Milan, you can't come back

It was painful for player and fans alike to watch Kaká go, more painful to watch him come back, a ghost of his old self. Most of us will remember him best by his first years at Milan. On his return, he was every bit as classy, though, and provided some positive leadership when Milan’s dressing room was filled with subpar players with varying degrees of character. Still dedicated to Milan, though, his family, and his God, we will all remember his first six magical golden years at Milan. A time where magic flourished between his feet, where the beautiful game bore his name and number, and where dreams really did come true with the divine gift.

This post inspired by the music of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”

Kaká: Divine Gift Kaká: Divine Gift Reviewed by Elaine on 4:39 AM Rating: 5
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