How Real Madrid's Kaka Went from World Beater to Bench Warmer

Nick AkermanFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 27:  Kaka of Real Madrid reacts during the Eusebio Cup match between Benfica and Real Madrid at Estadio da Luz on July 27, 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Real Madrid's Kaka has fallen to modern football's greatest curse: not being able to justify a hefty price tag.

The former Milan superstar had it all at the San Siro. A domestic title, Champions League success and numerous personal honours, including the 2007 Ballon d'Or. He was a world beater, a modern forward who combined power, agility and expert technique to gain global recognition. With a celebrative point towards god, the footballing world knew Kaka had scored.

And with one major transfer, the footballing world would see the Brazilian's natural talents disappear. His £56 million move to Real Madrid had the hallmarks of Zinedine Zidane's switch from Serie A to La Liga in 2001, but the similarities end there. Where Zizou is remembered as the king of Madrid's Galactico era and for Champions League winning volleys, Kaka's Bernabeu career has produced major disappointment.

Arriving alongside the £80 million rated Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka's Madrid career started in the shadows and only got darker. He was expected to create one of the sport's deadliest partnerships with the former Manchester United man. Kaka would be the integral cog of an attacking line that aimed to outgun the immense goalscoring power of Lionel Messi and friends at the Camp Nou.

When incoming Madrid president Florentino Perez signed Kaka and Ronaldo, he also ushered in the need for instant success from both individuals. For the latter, this hasn't been a problem. Ronaldo continues to compete with Messi for individual honours and will be remembered as one of the all-time greats alongside his Argentinian counterpart. For Kaka, a string of unfortunate events ensured personal success was never going to be possible at Madrid.

One year after joining the Spanish side, Kaka's decision to represent his country at the 2010 World Cup could have ended his career. Upon returning to Madrid, prolonged pain in the Brazilian's knee forced him into vital surgery. Despite initially believing the process would keep him sidelined for four months, it was eight months before Kaka entered the competitive field of play for his club.

The Madrid fans—who expected an instant return on the player—were left ruing bad luck. Kaka returned on Jan. 3, 2011 as a substitute for Karim Benzema. It didn't take long for the player to have an impact: six days later he laid on an excellent assist and scored in the 4-2 win over Villarreal.

Just two months after his return, the curse of Kaka's knees struck once more as excruciating pain in his left leg was diagnosed as Iliotibial band syndrome; a swelling of the knee tissue that is common in runners and athletes.

Although Kaka's initial lack of fitness caused Madrid to splash out on German playmaker Mesut Ozil in 2010, many still expected the former Werder Bremen to warm the bench when the Brazilian was fit. With Kaka struggling, Ozil's performances immediately produced important goals and assists for Jose Mourinho's side.

Ozil continued to impress as Kaka's time on the sideline mounted. Despite coming back from his second knee injury with two goals and an excellent performance against Valencia, Kaka's position was under major threat. He was regularly substituted and slowly saw his influence diminish. With Mourinho hunting a free-flowing and fast-paced style of football, Kaka was no longer the natural choice to start each game.

At this point, sympathy for the struggling player began to change. With Ronaldo romping through every La Liga defence and Ozil dictating between the midfield and forwards, every Kaka outing had to be spectacular. Huge pressure was placed on his shoulders, and if he didn't perform, the wealth of Madrid's attacking talent would produce someone else who could.

Inevitably, Kaka's indifferent form continues to force a media reaction that amplifies this pressure. During the 2012-13 season, links to Manchester United, Chelsea and Milan ensured he could never solely focus on maintaining fitness and performing well for a team that could have been designed around his abilities.

Just 13 starts and 11 substitute appearances this year has underlined Kaka's diminishing power in a massive way. Sure, he had managed to score four goals and produce four assists, but he is not having an effect in many important matches. He played just 45 minutes across both legs of the Champions League Round of 16 clash against Manchester United and was featured in only 10 minutes during the two ties against Dortmund.

Although spectacular, Kaka's Bernabeu tenure will only be remembered for disappointment. His failure to appear in the recent Copa Del Rey final loss to Atletico Madrid suggested the Spanish club is ready to regain a smidgen of the cash they paid for him four years ago. With Jose Mourinho's exit confirmed, does he have any chance of kick-starting his career in the capital?


Sometimes, these monstrous transfers just aren't meant to be. As we approach Brazil's 2014 World Cup season, it is time for the bench warmer to reestablish himself away from the limelight of La Liga. His confidence could replenish if he plays alongside exciting talents such as Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy at Milan, or he could even return to Brazil.

With Neymar leaving the country, perhaps this would provide the perfect opportunity at redemption before leading his nation on the world stage. All things went against Kaka at Madrid, from injuries to media speculation, and it's certainly the right time for him to start afresh away from Los Blancos.

Who knows, if Kaka manages to reproduce his Milan form, maybe we'll see those hands pointing towards the sky once again by the end of July 13, 2014.