Capture of Kaka Shows Real Madrid Mean Business
Owners of football clubs are well-versed in making empty promises. Not Florentino Perez. When Real Madrid's president promises galacticos, galacticos are headed for the Bernabeu. Reports tonight indicate that Milan have agreed to sell their prized asset, Kaka, to Real in a deal worth €64m (£55m).
Kaka's expected departure is hardly a surprise despite his earlier insistence today that he would not leave Italy. Madrid have moved disarmingly fast to secure his signature. There has been none of the hesitancy that was on show last summer when the long pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo ended in failure. Madrid mean business this time.
They have no other option. They barely mustered a fight as Barcelona became the first ever Spanish side to win the treble, and were given a footballing lesson in their own ground by their fiercest rivals, losing 6-2. To compound matters, they were humiliated in the last 16 of the Champions League by Liverpool. It is imperative Madrid can claim to match Barca's insanely wonderful attacking trio of Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. The current line-up reads too much like a who's who of mediocrity.
It is unlikely the new manager, Manuel Pellegrini, had much say in the negotiations but he will surely not mind a player of Kaka's pedigree being foisted upon him. This is Perez's modus operandi. Already, he has cast a dark shadow over the reign of the previous president, Ramon Calderon.
In stark contrast to Perez, Calderon delivered little. It was his bumbling that so offended Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson into doing everything in their power to keep Ronaldo. The previous summer he insisted he would sign Cesc Fabregas, Kaka and Arjen Robben. Robben alone would be procured from Chelsea, and his has been a career overwrought by injury after endless injury.
Perez's belief is that marketing is the most viable way for Madrid to make money. Kaka, a devout Christian who carries himself without affectation, might not offer millions in this way. He will not preen and prance like Ronaldo. Yet with a ball at his feet, he is just as deadly as the Portuguese.
Kaka, lest we forget, was the best player in the world in 2007, having single-handedly dragged a decrepit Milan side to their seventh Champions League title. He had caught the eye long before then, helping Milan to the Serie A title in 2003-04, his first season.
A year later, he was part of the team which threw away a three-goal lead at half-time in the Champions League final against Liverpool. Even so, few will forget the way he nutmegged Steven Gerrard to create the space for the brilliantly curved pass from which Hernan Crespo would score Milan's third. Impetuousness of that sort would earn him the tag of the tournament's best midfielder.
2006-07 season made the world sit up and take notice of his unique talents. With Andriy Shevchenko busy making a pig's ear of his first season at Chelsea, the onus finally fell on Kaka to inspire Milan, as Carlo Ancelotti made him the focal point of the team's attack.
He was the Champions League's top scorer with ten goals, a record that included a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory against Anderlecht. In the knock-out stages, he scored crucial goals against Celtic and Bayern Munich, but nothing would compare to his performance in the semi-final against Manchester United.
United were overwhelming favourites, having beaten Roma 8-3 on aggregate in their quarter-final, but they had no idea what was about to hit them. In the first leg at Old Trafford, United took an early lead.
This was Kaka's cue. As half-time approached, he accepted a pass from Clarence Seedorf and burst past Gabriel Heinze before the defender even had time to blink. A cute left foot finish from a tight angle, delivered early, surprised Edwin Van Der Sar in the United goal. What caught the breath was that so difficult an act had been made to look so simple.
He was not finished there. Minutes later, he strolled through after Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher had run into each other, and casually rolled the ball past Van Der Sar with his right boot. United rallied to win the match 3-2, but in the second leg at San Siro, Kaka ran amok and his early goal set them on their way to a 3-0 triumph.
That set up a rematch against Liverpool in the final. Here the brilliant holding midfielder Javier Mascherano was detailed to follow Kaka wherever he went. He performed as well as anyone had all season against the Brazilian. It was not enough to prevent Kaka from providing the assist for Pippo Inzaghi to score what would prove to be the winner.
He has suffered with a knee injury that has stymied his impact since that match. His reputation remained undimmed however, and Manchester City were besotted enough to table a £100m bid for him in January. Milan, understandably, pondered the offer long and hard, but it revealed much that Kaka was moved to tears in public at the prospect of the move. City were eventually rejected.
Madrid is a different proposition altogether. In his first spell as president, Perez vowed to sign a galactico each summer, and Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham duly arrived. Now Perez wishes to do the work of five transfer windows in one. Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Villa are on his wishlist. The signing of Kaka may persuade them.
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