“I would like to someday be compared to El Capitano,” said once a young Brazilian boy. “I want to become a legend of this club, and there would be no greater honor than to someday wear the arm band that now belongs to a true living legend like Paolo Maldini. I would like to earn a place in the hearts of fans the way he did.”
Those words were spoken by Ricky Kaká some time ago.
The Brazilian superstar has now won everything significant at the international club stage with AC Milan. And judging from the events that took place in the last few days, he is a man of his word. Late last night, the playmaker of the Rossoneri turned down an offer that would make most professional soccer players faint.
Manchester City, a team recently purchased by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who has an estimated net worth of $1 trillion and is an owner of the oil-bound Abu Dhabi United group, offered Kaká a salary of over $95 million over five years.
The Brazilian was to also keep any revenue generated from advertisements using his name or image. AC Milan was offered approximately a $165 million transfer fee in return.
In other words Kaká would have immediately become the most expensive commodity in soccer history, and his transfer fee would have more than doubled the fee that Real Madrid paid to sign Zinedine Zidane from Juventus almost a decade ago.
Kaká did not faint at the sight of this money, however, and kept his word on wanting to become a true AC Milan legend.
Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a longtime owner of the Italian club, confirmed the news on national TV.
“He is a wonderful, incredible boy. Ricky is a true example for all sports people to follow. He is an outstanding person. He turned down Manchester City’s money and told me he loves AC Milan to the bottom of his heart, and the love of our fans along with the great friendships he has developed with teammates matter to him more than anything. He is a man who believes in what he does.”
Kaká confirmed his boss' words. “In the past few days I realized that I would like to remain a Milan player for the rest of my career. My fans and friends helped me make this choice. I do not need anything else. I feel very happy here, where people love me.”
It has been a while since a sports event put tears in my eyes—especially an event that took place off the field. I could probably count the times it has happened on the fingers of one hand.
But today it happened. Kaká guaranteed himself a place in the AC Milan Hall of Fame a long time ago. He did it with beautiful performances on the field, proven leadership, and a great character. He was also a leader and a great teammate off the field. But today he surpassed his previous achievements.
He earned a spot in the hearts of fans—a spot right next to the one occupied by Paolo Maldini.
Maldini is now close to retirement. He has been with the team since he was a kid and has generated 630 appearances for the Rossoneri from 1984 until present times. He has lifted 24 trophies with Milan and has earned a deserved god-like spot in the hearts of fans.
And now the club has found an appropriate replacement for El Capitano—Ricky Kaká.
Since the Italian club was purchased by Silvio Berlusconi, the team has become one of the most prominent powers in European soccer.
The club trails only Real Madrid in terms of Champions League titles—Milan has won seven and Real Madrid nine—but Milan has won more total international trophies than any club on the planet.
The team is currently going through some problems resulting from the weak economy as well as the renovation of the aging squad. AC Milan missed the Champions League after finishing fifth in Serie A last season.
Participation in the UEFA Cup is a very small consolation for a club used to match against only the very best on the continent.
Kaká, at this difficult time for the club and for fans, had turned into a father figure and a true barometer for how AC Milan performed on the field. And when Manchester City showed interest toward the Brazilian star, fans were understandably worried.
Even the arrival of David Beckham, the bright performance of Alexandre Pato, the presence of Ronaldinho, the return of Shevchenko, or the continuing career of Paolo Maldini could not settle fans to accept that Kaká might be leaving the club.
Fans started protests in front of the official AC Milan offices. A staggering number of fans also showed up in front of Kaká’s home showing their support and love for the player.
Maybe none of this mattered and Kaká would have made the same decision regardless, but late last evening he officially declined to sign the contract outlined by Manchester City after AC Milan allowed the negotiations.
Kaká opened the windows of his home and waived the red and black Milan jersey with the number 22 on the back. He then threw it in the crowd and tapped the area on his chest where his heart was. He did it the same way he does it after scoring a goal at Stadio San Siro.
That was all. Big money lost, the sport won, and Kaká quickly became the new living legend of AC Milan. There is an indescribable beauty in seeing how big money cannot buy everything these days.
Thank you, Ricky Kaká, for reminding us that values still exist. Thank you for showing us that tradition means more than money. Thank you for showing us that the love of fans and the existence of great friendships are more important than big paychecks.
Thank you for being a man of your word.