“Upon his return we were all afraid,” Adriano Galliani told Radio Monte Carlo last week (h/t Football Italia), and it is understandable that they were. Four years after a €68.5 million deal saw the best player in the world leave Milan for Madrid, everyone connected with the Rossoneri feared the Kaka they loved was no more.
A sporadic and injury-hit stay in the Spanish capital saw him make a grand total of 120 appearances, and many of them were instantly forgettable, yielding just 23 league goals.
Taking him back was a calculated gamble—one taken in part to ease some of the anger felt by supporters at the departure of numerous other club legends such as Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini. The vice president had managed to secure a free transfer of the 31-year-old, meaning Milan had risked very little, but they are being richly rewarded.
After overcoming various injuries, the talismanic forward has returned to action and is showing regular glimpses of his very best form. Dropping deep in search of the ball, he turns and drives at the heart of the opposition at speed, striking fear into defenders faced with his combination of skill and pace.
Despite the desperate form of i Rossoneri—they currently sit 11th and are just six points outside the relegation places—Kaka already has found the net six times and made three assists. His double against Atalanta last week took him to 101 goals for Milan, a tally which sees him rank as the 10th-highest scorer in club history.
His composure, balance and creativity seem to have instantly returned to the level last seen when he was carrying Milan to the 2007 Champions League and Club World Cup double. That form saw him also win the Ballon d’Or as the best world’s finest player, and even under Massimiliano Allegri, Kaka has proved to be the one dependable man in the red and black stripes.
With the World Cup fast approaching, Kaka’s form raises the question of whether he could once again perform a similar role for Brazil as they host the competition for the first time since 1950.
He endured a two-year absence from the national team until his recall in September 2012, and Luiz Felipe Scolari has continued to name him in his squads this season.
The opportunity to play a part in winning the tournament on home soil strikes a chord with all Brazilians, particularly given the fact they were beaten by Uruguay in what is known as Maracanzo, "the Maracana blow." Sixty-four years of waiting to avenge that defeat are all but over, and to be crowned champions is the dream of almost the entire nation.
Under the former Portugal boss, the Selecao won the 2002 World Cup in the Far East with Kaka playing just 25 minutes, and it is difficult to envision in anything but a bit part role when this summer’s edition gets underway.
Last year’s Confederation Cup triumph allowed some insight into what we can expect from them, and since Scolari arrived, they have lost just twice in 20 games.
A forward line of Hulk, Oscar and Neymar looks good enough to compete with the very best, but a player of Kaka’s experience and guile would be a formidable weapon off the bench. While the latter is the biggest name on show, his role on the left is in part due to the incredible ability of Oscar, which could well be the defining factor for Brazil.
He is a fine playmaker and a genuine goal threat, but he possesses a tactical understanding and level of off-the-ball application that belies his 22 years and which sees him play a similar role for Chelsea, despite the presence of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard. He will have a crucial role to play in both the attacking and defensive shape of his side in the summer, and Kaka could well be the man to substitute for him and keep him fresh as the tournament progresses.
With their effervescent supporters behind them, Brazil boast a star-studded line-up filled with incredible quality, but we have yet to see how Neymar, Thiago Silva and Co. react when faced with such pressure. As such, it is becoming increasingly likely there will be a place for a proven winner like Kaka in the final 23-man squad.
He’s earned it.