The scheming Real Madrid midfielder pulls all the strings in Brazil's attack, writes Andy Mitten Kaka is close to perfection. He is one of the best footballers on the planet, is a former World Player of the Year and although he is unlikely to have to work again following the end of a lucrative playing career, he at least has the ability to speak five languages fluently to fall back on. For the minute, he has fulfilled the dream of many aspiring footballer by playing for his country, Brazil, and Real Madrid, two ambassadors of the beautiful game.
Kaka, who cost Real ?65 million (Dh285,980m) last season from AC Milan, is used to being feted. At AC Milan, he was an integral part of the team which reached the Uefa Champions League final in 2005 and won the competition two years later. "Brazilians said that Kaka played like greats such as Rai, Zico or Rivaldo," purred Carlo Ancelotti, the Milan coach, "but Kaka reminds me of Platini." Pele opined that Kaka was the new Johan Cruyff, the Dutch midfield maestro, while Zico said that he reminded him of Socrates, the captain of the Brazil side in 1982.
Although comfortable playing anywhere in midfield and either side of a main striker, Kaka usually leads Milan's five-man midfield, positioned behind Andriy Shevchenko. "I don't know whether he's the best player Milan have had in my time here," remarked Silvio Berlusconi, the club president, "but I've never seen a player so young do the things he does for us." Ronaldinho, his Brazil teammate, added to the plaudits, claiming: "Kaka is a magical footballer who creates moments of inspiration. As well as being a superb passer of the ball with excellent positioning, he can run past players, shoot and score."
Walking, however, would have been the extent of his ambitions in 2000 when he broke vertebrae in his back following a freak accident at a water park in Sao Paulo. Luckily he made a full recovery and signed for Milan three years later. Kaka cemented his position as a great of the European game during six years at Milan but he has yet to make his mark at the World Cup. Two years shy of his 30th birthday, this will be his third World Cup yet the portents for him making a lasting impression are not encouraging after a disappointing first season at Real.
He started just 21 of their 38 league games and found the net eight times. "It has been a fairy tale in reverse," opined one Madrid columnist. "Florentino Perez [the Real president] went to Milan to get a swan, and got an ugly duckling." Kaka does boast a World Cup winner's medal from 2002 but that was earned on the back of an 18-minute cameo in a group game against Costa Rica. He was expected to shine in the 2006 World Cup, but, even by his own admission, the tournament did not go to plan for Brazil.
"It was not what anyone wanted or expected," he explains. "We played against France in the quarter-finals and lost 1-0. Thierry Henry scored. That was really sad for us because we had so many talents in that team. But we will learn and I will learn that talent is not enough. We know that we need to be well prepared and that you need many other things including luck to win a World Cup." Luck, the great intangible.
"Football is a game so anything can happen," Kaka adds. "But you can create situations in which luck will help you. If you prepare well and have a high level of talent, you are likely to be luckier." Kaka is the star of Brazil's Selecao Canarinho (Canaries) with the way he supports the strikers from midfield. Elegant and versatile, Kaka also boasts a phenomenal scoring record. He will need to be at his best to sate expectations among the 200 million Brazilians.
"Brazil are expected to win every World Cup," he says. "This time is exactly the same. We need to win the World Cup because that's what expected of us, but the danger is that you can think you have already won the competition. "I know that we'll be against the best teams in the world, but our aim is to win. At the very least, we have to play well and reach the late stages. The way we play is very important in Brazil. Many people remember the side of 1982 with more affection than the Brazil side which won the competition in 1994."
The only nation to have appeared in every World Cup since the tournament started in 1930, Brazil have become more disciplined under Dunga, the coach who is a former World Cup-winning captain. They use two defensive midfield players to protect the defence and the full-backs have licence to attack. "He's done a very good job," Kaka says of Dunga. "When he started with the national team, nobody believed that he could be a good coach. They didn't doubt him as much after we won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup [in South Africa last summer] and finished in first place in our very tough World Cup qualification group. He's got more credibility now."
Kaka's poor form, which was partly a result of a groin injury and partly due to the expectation on his shoulders, is not a concern for Dunga. "It's impossible to play at the top of your form every match for a whole year," says the coach. "He knows what playing for Real Madrid entails, and the weight that gets carried when somebody pays an absolute fortune for you. He'll be successful there. I have no doubt that Kaka will be one of the stars of the World Cup."
Brazil are in a tough group with old adversaries and former colonial masters Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea. "I know very little about North Korea - like most of the world. I hope they won't surprise us," says Kaka, always smiling, always level headed. His sunny outlook stems from his upbringing as the son of an engineer father and a mother who taught maths. He was raised in Sao Paulo among the opulent Paulista villas of the middle classes. "It's certainly one of the more difficult groups, but that gives us extra motivation,"
His clash with Portgual's Cristiano Ronaldo, his Real teammate, could be the highlight of the group phase. @Email:email@example.com