x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Settled Kaka is enjoying life on the Milan catwalk

AC Milan's Brazilian midfielder Kaka tells Alam Khan why football does not consume him.

The Brazilian tells Alam Khan why football does not consume him It has been two months since a transfer that would have rewritten football's record books failed to materialise, but the man at the centre of it all has gone about his business like nothing ever happened. Manchester City hoped to convince AC Milan to sell them the Brazilian midfielder Kaka and were prepared to break all previous marks to do so.

They never actually got to speak to the player, despite the saga dominating headlines during January's transfer window. Kaka, 26, remains unperturbed by the speculation and unmoved by further rumours that he will head to Real Madrid in the summer if Milan do not qualify for the Champions League, but then he has such a simplistic view of life that it is no surprise. Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is a man who has always followed his own mind and heart, rarely pandering to outside influences or peer pressure.

Apart from the odd glass of wine with a meal, he does not drink alcohol, does not smoke and was a virgin until he married his childhood love Caroline. Kaka's religious beliefs are well documented. An evangelical Christian, the Bible is his favourite book and he donates 10 per cent of his income to the church, a devotion which intensified following a dramatic recovery from a possible paralysis-inducing spinal fracture after he slipped on a swimming pool slide and broke a vertebrae.

He was just 18 at the time, already showing his potential with his first club Sao Paulo and a maturity beyond his years. During January's transfer saga City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, described him as the game's next global ambassador in the mould of his countryman Pele. So is he as wholesome as he appears? Kaka laughs heartily and shakes his head. "What I do is my choice, but I don't think I am perfect, for sure I make mistakes," he says.

"Footballers are treated like idols. We are role models for everyone, the young kids especially, and we have to do good things and set an example to them. "For me, this is a responsibility, not a pressure. It is easy for me to be who I am: it is something I have to do. "I do worry about making a mistake, but I try not to do this. "I try to live a normal life with my wife and my son and I am aware of the responsibility.

"I don't like alcohol, beer. In Italy, sometimes I have a glass of wine with a meal, but I also don't like wine that much. I just think it's my body and one thing of mine that I want to look after." A teetotaller is a rare breed in European football, as is a high-profile player who manages to avoid the wrong kind of headlines. It is something Kaka is conscious of, with two of his Brazilian international teammates, now in Milan with him, often castigated for a poor attitude and a love of partying.

But he is convinced Ronaldinho, his Milan colleague, and Adriano, trying to find favour with Jose Mourinho at city rivals Inter, are world-beaters when they focus on the game. Kaka is grateful he was brought up in a middle-class family - the son of Bosco, a civil engineer, and Simone, a teacher, in Brasilia - while others faced poverty in the city's slums. "In life, you have to make a choice. I had friends who did bad things, but it's normal," he says.

"It's not easy in Brazil or anywhere, but everyone can choose what they want to do. I don't judge anybody, but that was not my choice. "When I can, I try to talk to Adriano. I think he has got a big talent and he could throw it away. He is a father now and it's important for his children, not just himself. "There are people who try to influence you or lead you to a wrong path, but it depends on you.

"You have to do the things you like, but without the bad influences. "Ronaldinho is now playing well and training hard. In Spain he didn't train like he did here. "He is in good shape and now we can see Ronaldinho coming back, like the old, great, player he was. It is down to him. "The criticism is normal for any footballer and you accept it. The thing that bothers me is someone like Adriano. He is an amazing player and can be the best striker in the world, but maybe he needs to leave Inter and find another team to do that: to take another path and start again."

Being in a place of contentment is also key for Kaka. For now he feels happiest in Milan, and perhaps that also has something to do with his own status as a father. His son, Luca, is now nine months old and Kaka says it is hard to describe the changes fatherhood has brought. He says Robinho, the Manchester City striker, has been sharing his parenting experiences having become a father a few months earlier with Robson Junior.

While the pair may not be teaming up at the City of Manchester Stadium, Kaka says it would be a dream if their children did. "I will support Luca and if he wants to be a footballer then so be it," he says. "If I was not a player, I think I would have been an engineer because my father was one. Often you follow your father. "I won't force Luca to be this or that, but a little Robinho and a little Kaka playing together for Brazil... that would be nice.

"It's an unbelievable feeling being a father. I can talk about it to you, but it's still not possible to describe. "It has changed me a lot. Before, everything I did was about me and my wife. Now we have to think first about Luca. "Robinho is teaching me some things. We talk regularly and I hope he can do well at Manchester City. "He has to be patient now and maybe wait for one or two years to see how things go, but he believes in the project."

Kaka is focused on Milan and hopes to continue being at the peak which has made him such a prize asset for the Rossoneri. The recipient of the Ballon D'or as European Footballer of the Year, and then the World Player of the Year in 2007, he has his sights on more honours for club and country. While Kaka, who is still struggling with a foot injury which may keep him out of the match against Siena tomorrow, admires talented rivals like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, it is the veteran Paolo Maldini he most wants to emulate.

"It's nice to watch Messi play and Ronaldo, but for me the biggest example is Maldini," he says. "He is 40 and he's still playing. He still has the motivation to play, to win and be the No 1. "He's the biggest example for anyone and I love to talk about him. He has won a lot of things, the Champions League [five times], Serie A championships [seven]; he is not tired of winning. It's difficult to have this motivation all the time, to keep playing at this high level, but that's what I want too.

"To win something every year, to still be at the top and to finish my career with many trophies, not just doing well for one or two seasons. "It does not just depend on me to be the No 1 player in the world, but on the team too. If I can play well in a team like Milan or Brazil, I will always have a chance to win the top awards, and I want that again." While helping Milan, third in Serie A, challenge for success is his immediate target, the World Cup in 2010 brings another desire.

He wants to make amends for what happened in Germany three years ago. Brazil lost 1-0 to France, beaten finalists, in the quarter-finals. "In 2006 I learned that talent is not enough in football. You have to do a lot more to be a winning group," he says. "It was a bad experience and disappointing not to win, but it was also a good experience in the sense that you learn from it. "We do not want to repeat what happened in Germany.

"It's a challenge and motivation for us in 2010. "The Brazilian team always has to win and that is a big responsibility, but a good thing." While he only played 25 minutes in 2002 to become a World Cup winner, Kaka says the all-round experience was unforgettable. "I learned so much. I was just 20 and Ronaldo was the best player we had," he says. "While Rai was my hero, I always admired Ronaldo. "For me he is the best player I have played with: just amazing, he thinks about everything before the ball arrives.

"It's amazing to find a player like him and I am glad I had the chance to play alongside him." With the World Cup staged in his homeland in 2014, Kaka says it will be a dream to remain part of the side. Many have touted him as a future captain of the Selecao. "That would be special. Having the World Cup in Brazil means a lot to everyone and it would be so nice to stay at home and be with my parents and whole family and play in this," he adds.

"I will be 32 then and we will have to see what condition I will be in." akhan@thenational.ae