x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brazilian retirement plan at AC Milan brings back another – Kaka this time

In his second stint with AC Milan, Kaka could change the fading trend among Brazilian superstars in Italy.

Brazilian Kaka made a return to AC Milan and greeted his old supporters on Monday. Matteo Bazzi / EPA
Brazilian Kaka made a return to AC Milan and greeted his old supporters on Monday. Matteo Bazzi / EPA

In the decade since Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaka, signed for AC Milan for the first time, five winners of the Ballon d'Or, the award recognising the top footballer in the world, have played for Milan.

Quite a tally for a club who have won only two league titles in that time.

But then you look at the small print. Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Brazil's Ronaldo were worthy winners of the superlative prize, but by the time they joined Milan their best, garlanded days had passed.

Put bluntly, Milan have developed a penchant for fading Brazilian stars, who made their names at big Spanish clubs, and even Robinho's occasional goals and productive creative episodes – he scored in the weekend's 3-0 win over Cagliari – still look part of that habit.

So it is easy to be cynical about the arrival of Kaka, from Real Madrid, on a free transfer.

The difference is that Kaka and Milan have already shared so many peaks. Milan are the club who first brought graceful and photogenic 21-year-old attacking player to European football, and celebrated his emergence with the scudetto at the end of his first campaign. By 2007, the Milan game plan, devised by Carlo Ancelotti, was built around his thrust and imagination from advanced midfield.

It was a good enough plan to win the Uefa Champions League and have Kaka name's engraved on the Ballon d'Or.

There is a longing on both parts that, at 31, Kaka can rediscover those harmonies.

"I want to experience again more of the great moments I have had with Milan," he said, once protracted negotiations, mainly over the scale of the salary cut he would accept by changing employers, had been completed.

"But it is different now: I will be one of the oldest players in a very good young team."

Undoubtedly, Kaka, who suffered various frustrating – though not devastating – injuries over his four years in Madrid, has lost some of the zip he had in his 20s, and it may be considered ominous that Madrid's Ancelotti is the coach who has just waved goodbye to him.

But he is not a spent force. Though his first-team stints in Spain were interrupted, his match-winning outings sporadic, he finished with a goals-per-game ratio in the Primera Liga and Europe similar to his record in Italy, and his assists were actually more frequent, albeit alongside a voracious Cristiano Ronaldo in high-scoring Madrid sides.

There is more than just nostalgia to Milan's reunion with their former idol.

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