Before switching clubs, Kaka told Mediaset (h/t The Telegraph) that he wanted to “grow old” with Milan and one day take the field as captain. He left the team a winner of everything—Italy, Europe and the world conquered—but he left without fulfilling that final wish.
It was December 2012, and he walked into the Bernabeu with the bright yellow strap on his left arm, the leader. He scored once in a 4-1 win over Ajax, and he smiled a rare smile. Life was not kind to the Brazilian in Spain, and finally, after Jose Mourinho so often left him out of the first team, did Kaka get to experience the pride of leading a team on a famous Champions League night. Just not for Milan.
When he returned to Italy, Kaka picked up where he left off. He scored his 100th goal with the club, and he finally wore the armband—and it was the derby. But it is still a question whether he will grow old with the team he never wanted to leave.
Spanish daily AS published a report earlier this week (h/t Football Italia) suggesting that Kaka had reached a verbal agreement with Orlando City to play in MLS in 2015.
Milan CEO Adriano Galliani said, per Football Italia, that Kaka has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave the club if they don’t qualify for the Champions League. Now they are mathematically out of the competition for the next season. Whether Kaka will activate that clause is unclear.
Kaka did not return to a team ready to win again. He most likely will never play in the Champions League again, scoring the lone goal for Milan in what was probably his last match, a 4-1 loss at Atletico Madrid. If anything, Kaka is a raft in really tricky waters.
He brought back a little pride in a season of total misery. He looks a little meaner on matchdays, a little facial hair growing unnoticed, scowling at Mario Balotelli and teammates, breaking up skirmishes, arguing with the referee. He is not used to leading, but following. Paolo Maldini and Massimo Ambrosini were ahead of him in the pecking order when he last played for Milan. Both are gone.
When he came back, he told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Sambafoot) that he was ready “to help those who are younger and still learning. Milan 10 years ago was different, but the feelings are the same. It is as if I had never left.”
It wasn’t about the money, either. He forewent any pay while he was out injured in September. “I don't want anything from Milan, except for love and support, until I'm fully fit and ready to play,” he said, per the BBC.
He took a significant pay cut, around €6 million, to return to Milan, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t SI.com). And if he stays with Milan another year, he will lose even more money. Galliani told La Gazzetta (h/t Football Italia) that each player will forgo 20 percent of their pay as a result of finishing outside the Champions League. The clause was already a part of their contracts.
“I am in no hurry and I am very happy here,” Kaka told reporters, per Football Italia, after scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Chievo on the weekend. “I ask you not to talk about these things any more. I am very happy at Milan and that is my last word on my future.”
But his future is all that’s left. He just played his 300th game for Milan, and he now has 30 goals in the Champions League—the most by any Brazilian. There aren’t many more milestones to achieve.
He came back to Milan hoping to play in Brazil this summer. “There’s still time for the World Cup,” he said, per the BBC. “I just have to keep playing well with Milan. On 7 May the squad will be announced, and I believe I'm still in with a chance.”
The actual captain of the team is Riccardo Montolivo, but we could hardly notice. He did not play against Atletico Madrid, serving a suspension for a clumsy red card that he earned against Ajax, and he often looks like nervous on the ball. We all know who the real captain is here.
Kaka has played a little too much for Milan this season, starting most of the games. But in a deeper position, with fewer games to play, he can get a lot of the next season.
Kaka is home at Milan, his wife posts pictures of the various places they visit in the city, the kids go to the games and they all look happy. But Milan would benefit the most if Kaka decided to stay another year. He is a family man, dedicated, sacrificing himself for the team. Against Barcelona in the Champions League, he ran like a right-back, tracking back and frustrating Sergio Busquets in the middle of the park.
Kaka is what the club once were: proud and likeable and loyal. He himself admitted in an interview with TV Globo (h/t Football Italia) that it’s “strange” to play under Clarence Seedorf, now the coach, who was once "by my side on the pitch.”
But Kaka says nothing wrong. He never complains, not about Madrid or the present, and when he does get angry, we notice. He could help Seedorf teach the ways of Milan. He could help Balotelli, who combined with the Brazilian to score on several occasions.
The only player on the roster who truly knows what it means to play for Milan is Kaka. They can’t buy success; they have to teach it again.
Even on the days he doesn’t play well enough, we can hear the crowd chanting for him. Kaka has earned the benefit of the doubt. “I’ve dreamt of hearing the fans singing my name inside the San Siro,” he told Milan Channel (h/t ESPNFC) in September.
It's the little things. Kaka achieved everything else with Milan. And he has given so much. Maybe he can give a little more.