The 2007 Champions League final could have been a tale of two Premier League clubs. There was certainly a good case to make that Manchester United could have been the team to line up against Liverpool in Athens. And what a final it would have been: two of England’s most successful teams battling for European supremacy.
Instead, the 2007 final became Kaka’s crowning moment at AC Milan, a successful act of revenge for the manner in which the Italians lost the 2005 final against Liverpool in Istanbul. It was Kaka who single-handedly tore apart Manchester United in the semifinal, shining brightest as the world’s best player on the rain-soaked pitch at Old Trafford. Before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi engraved their names as the best on the Ballon d’Or trophy, AC Milan’s Brazilian midfielder had claimed the throne and would have comfortably been considered one of the finest of this generation.
Weeks before Ronaldo made his first appearance in Madrid in a packed Santiago Bernabeu, Kaka arrived from Milan as the then most expensive player in the world. He was the first of the second wave of Galacticos at Real Madrid, and a player who should have helped to form one of the deadliest attacks in world football.
As of now, it’s hard to say that Kaka has repaid the 65 million euros Real spent on him in 2009. A number of injuries and the subsequent loss of form has played a great part in forcing the Brazilian to decline; he’s very rarely thought of as one of the very best in the world anymore.
But while the best part of the last two years have been difficult for the player, he did return to Real’s starting XI in a prominent attacking role this season for their trip to Ajax in the Champions League. Ronaldo was the obvious name to steal to headlines due to his hat trick, but Kaka put forward one of the finest displays of any player in a Real shirt this season. The hard work, the selflessness and the desire was all there from the midfielder. The game at the Amsterdam Arena proved to be a reawakening for Kaka and his time at Real.
Real Madrid have and continue experience troubles this season. The team are not performing to the same levels as last year and many players have fallen well short of the high standards they set in their title-winning season. No longer should the question be whether Kaka is on the decline as a footballer, but rather it seems to be a very valid point to make that not all the players perfectly compliment one another.
The idea that Real Madrid’s current squad are not ideally suited to one another is an increasingly confusing notion, especially considering the manner in which they stormed to the La Liga title last year and the fact that Luka Modric is their only significant piece of summer transfer business. With the Croatian midfielder coming in to add depth, none of the key players at the Bernabeu were forced to leave: there are no obvious gaps in this Real Madrid team.
But it appears clear that Kaka is a perfect partner in the midfield for another struggling player this season—Mesut Ozil. The German’s lack of form can be attributed to the same problems Kaka has faced, in that very little around him seems to work to his greatest strengths. The names regularly on show at the Bernabeu might be some of the leading names in Europe, but Ozil’s technical ability arguably surpasses even that of Ronaldo. Kaka, on the other hand, has displayed many times over the years that he’s a match for Ozil’s outstanding set of skills.
It’s a huge disappointment that Kaka has reached 30 and has not made a lasting impact since moving to Spain. He should have been a player to take up a significant role in Real Madrid’s charge for Champions league glory, but the notable lack of rotation from Jose Mourinho last season left the team exhausted and out of ideas once the business end of the season rolled around.
This season, however, has given us an indication that there is plenty left in the tank of the Brazilian. Where recently it was thought the player would retire from the game in Europe and see out the remainder of his playing days in America or Brazil, there’s now a very good case to make that Kaka could be one of the candidates to help turn Real’s season around.
If Mourinho can come to terms with welcoming the Brazilian back into the starting XI on a regular basis and help to raise his game, we may finally see the best of the former World Player of the Year again. The performance at Ajax was no fluke. The dip in form, however, was simply just that—a prolonged dip.