Kaka: A tribute

We honour the Brazilian playmaker who has lit up the world of football

Jonathan Kelly
Published 04/29/2013 10:40 by Jonathan Kelly, read by 3,877 people.

An inspiration to many, Ricardo dos Santos Leite or Kaka as he is better known is the last Brazilian to be named FIFA World Player of the Year.  

The elegant midfielder has starred for A.C. Milan, Real Madrid and the Brazil national team. His 12 years in the game have been a huge success at international and club level as well as a plethora of individual awards. Here's a look at Kaka's career thus far.

Born in Gama in 1982, Kaka began his football career at the age of eight with his local club. He was also an avid fan of tennis and played both sports in his young years.  

However, when Sao Paulo signed him at the age of 15, Kaka focused solely on football upon joining the club situated where he lived since the age of seven. At the age of 18, Kaka suffered a career threatening injury to his spine as a result of a swimming pool accident.  

Fortunately for the up and coming Brazilian made a full recovery ensuring that fans did not miss out on one of the best talents in recent history. Kaka made his debut for Sao Paulo in 2001 and scored 12 goals in 27 appearances during his first season with the club.  

Kaka was selected for the FIFA World Youth Championship with the Brazil under 20 squad the same year. The following season, the midfielder scored ten goals in 22 matches and in the process his performances attracted the attention of some of the world's biggest clubs. 

Kaka won his first cap for Brazil in a friendly against Bolivia in early 2002. He was selected in the squad for the 2002 World Cup in Korea /Japan. Despite only playing 25 minutes during the whole tournament, Kaka received a World Cup winners medal as Brazil defeated Germany 2-0 in the final to become world champions for a record fifth time.  

The speculation surrounding his future culminated when Italian giants A.C. Milan captured the midfielder's signature in 2003 for a fee of €8.5 million.  

Meanwhile for Brazil, Kaka captained Brazil for the 2003 Gold Cup as the nation competed in the tournament with their under 23 squad.  

He scored three goals as the Selecao finished as runners up following defeat to Mexico in the final. A month into his tenure with the Serie A club, Kaka was already in the starting line up alongside the likes of Paolo Maldini and Andriy Shevchenko.  

The attacking midfielder scored 10 goals in 30 matches as The Rossoneri won the Scudetto and the UEFA Cup in Kaka's first season with the Italian side.

The following season, Kaka and Milan were unsuccessful in retaining the league title and also lost to Liverpool in the Champions League final on penalties despite leading 3-0 at half time.  

Milan would go a further season without a trophy having been knocked of the Champions League by eventual winners Barcelona in the semi final after a 1-0 aggregate win.  

Despite this Kaka scored 19 goals in all competitions, his best return in the red and black of Milan to that point.  With that impressive goal tally, Kaka remained in good form heading into the 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

Brazil were drawn against Croatia, Australia and Japan in Group F and were expected to top the group.  Kaka got off to a flying start by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Croatia and was named man of the match. However, he couldn't keep up his momentum as Brazil were defeated by France in the quarter final and the holders were out.

A.C. Milan's main goal threat Andriy Shevchenko joined Chelsea for a fee of £30 million as the 2006/07 season commenced. Desperate for more to silverware, Kaka rotated between his regular position of attacking midfield and also as a centre forward. 

 This proved successful as The Rossoneri avenged the loss to Liverpool in the Champions League final two years previous by defeating the Merseyside club 2-1 thanks to a brace from Filippo Inzaghi.  

Kaka was the integral part in Milan's victory, scoring three goals over two legs against Manchester United in the semi final earning his side a 5-3 aggregate win. Kaka was the top scorer in the competition that season with ten goals and was voted best player for his fantastic displays which culminated in Milan lifting the giant trophy once again in Athens.

For his stunning performances throughout 2007, Kaka received the pinnacle of individual awards when he was named the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d'Or to cap off his most successful season in football to date.  

He continued his excellent form by helping Milan win the Club World Cup at the end of that year and scored 19 goals in all competitions despite his side being unable to retain the Champions League or challenge for the Serie A title.  

In 2009, Milan received an offer from Manchester City of over £100 million for the Brazilian midfielder.  Despite such an incredible bid for the player, Kaka pledged his future to the Italian giants and claimed he wanted to captain the club in the future.  

Later that year however, following constant speculation, Kaka joined Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid for a fee of €68 million making him the third most expensive player of all time behind Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.  The midfielder signed a six-year deal at the Bernabeu.

Kaka shined in his first season for the club, scoring nine goals and providing eight assists in 33 appearances. The midfielder was selected for the Brazil squad competing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Kaka was his country's key man and the hopes of putting the disappointment of four years earlier rested on his shoulders.  

He played well, providing three assists in the tournament despite being sent off in the second group match against Ivory Coast. Even though Brazil were leading for much of the game, the Selecao were pegged back by the Netherlands and following a mistake from keeper Julio Cesar and two goals from Wesley Sneijder, Brazil's dream of becoming world champions for a sixth time was over once again at the quarter final stage.  

That summer Kaka returned to Real Madrid but was forced to undergo knee surgery, ruling him out of action for up to four months. Due to the injury, the midfielder only played in 20 matches that season, but still managed to score seven goals and create six and won his first trophy with the Spanish side, that being the Copa del Rey.

Kaka played 40 times for Real Madrid during the 2011/12 season which ultimately turned out to be his most successful campaign for the Spanish giants so far. Kaka scored eight goals and created 14 more in all competitions aiding the club to win La Liga for a record breaking 32nd time and the first since 2008.  

Later that year the midfielder was recalled to the Brazil squad after not appearing for his country since the World Cup two years previous.  Upon his return he scored in matches against Iraq and Japan, increasing his tally to 29 goals for his country.  

In December of 2012, Kaka scored the 28th Champions League goal of his career in a 4-1 win over Ajax during the group stage at the Bernabeu.  So far this season, Kaka has been a part of 22 games for Los Blancos scoring four and creating three.

In his career thus far, Kaka has played over 500 club games for Sao Paulo, A.C. Milan and Real Madrid.  He has scored 170 times and has provided more than 75 assists. The midfielder has also won 87 caps for Brazil and has scored 29 goals for his country.  

His elegant playing style has proved as an inspiration to many young up and coming players and along with Ronaldinho is arguably the best Brazilian footballer of his generation.

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