When AC Milan announced the return of Ricardo Kaka this past summer, many were the doubts about whether it was a smart move for the club. In the world of soccer, just like in any other aspect of life, the common assumption is to believe that returns are hardly ever positive both for the player and for the team. After all, history has presented many cases of players returning to their former clubs after an experience elsewhere in which the results were everything but fruitful.
It is only enough to think about the return of Fabio Cannavaro to Juventus after the Real Madrid experience, or the one of Andriy Shevchenko from Chelsea to Milan to realize how challenging it can be, even for world-class players, to go back to a club and meet the high standards from which they are going to be judged, especially if the first experience was a good one.
For this reason, Kaka’s chances of meeting these standards after coming back from Real Madrid were very low, especially considering his poor performances with the Spanish club ever since he joined in 2009. With the Merengues, in fact, he barely added 85 league matches and scored 23 goals in four seasons, despite having a multimillionaire contract of €9 million per year. Moreover, regardless of the actual statistics, fans never really saw, from him, the same level that he had previously shown at Milan, where he even became the world’s best player by winning the Ballon d’Or in 2007.
Fortunately for him, however, the strong crisis that has hit Milan in recent years created a perfect situation for Kaka to come back and to become a symbol for the club again — a benefit that Shevchenko did not have in 2008.
As a matter of fact, Milan’s lack of leaders in the locker room represented a great opportunity for him to rapidly become a point of reference for the rest of the group, which no longer has the historic figures it traditionally had.
In addition, the poor results of recent years have obligated the fans to lower their expectations with the players. For this reason, Kaka is not forced to show the same level he did in 2007 to satisfy Milan fans and the general public opinion. Furthermore, he doesn’t have to be the world’s best player to be considered an idol again. Instead, he only needs to transmit some of the winning spirit to the rest of the players to increase their performances.
This is exactly what Kaka has done ever since he returned to Milan in September, despite having been injured for one month. He already became the new main leader for the Rossoneri by only performing a little better than the rest of his teammates and by motivating them to work harder on and off the field.
Even though Milan’s situation in Serie A is quite precarious, Kaka’s leadership role has allowed the team to almost secure the qualification to the next round of Champions League with a convincing 3-0 win over Celtic. The 2002 World Cup winner not only scored the first goal of the match, but also led the team to a stupendous performance that seemed to recall the glorious Milan of the past.
It is hard to predict how far Milan will go this season. However, it can be said that, thanks to Kaka’s revival, Milan has started to find its soul again.