Brazil's Kaka Leaves AC Milan at the Right Time

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

Brazilian soccer star Kaka, center, signs autographs as he is surrounded by fans at Orlando International Airport, Monday, June 30, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. Kaka is the first designated player to sign with the Orlando City Soccer Club that will begin play in Major League Soccer in 2015. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Kaka had to come back home, and he did. They called it a love affair that would not die, between him and AC Milan. He got to score his 100th goal in the red and black jersey, and he did it at San Siro. He put in his 30th goal in the Champions League, more than any other Brazilian ever. And he finally wore the captain's armband for the team of his heart, against Inter no less.

He will never wear No. 22 again. That belongs to Milan.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 12: Former Brazil player Kaka looks on before the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Now he's off to Orlando, where they already love him. That's typical. This is a guy who once took a taxi cab to a Champions League game. He never says a bad thing. He is a good husband and an even better father. He went to Brazil solely to cheer for his country, even though he so badly wanted to play in the World Cup. He did it for his son Luca, who looked overjoyed meeting the players on the touchline before Brazil took on Croatia in the opener. 

So Kaka does things with his heart, but he made the move to Major League Soccer with his head. There was nothing else for him to accomplish at Milan. He will also get a chance to play on loan at Sao Paulo, the club of his childhood, and wrap up one more love story. 

MLS did not disclose his salary, but it's assumed that it's big. But he would not come to the U.S. for the money. He speaks several languages. He is almost a citizen of the world. Carlo Ancelotti first thought he was some "young preacher," according to his book The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius, when Kaka arrived at Milan in 2003, and while he is 32 years old now, Kaka is still spreading the gospel of football.

When he arrived in Orlando this week, hundreds of fans greeted him at the airport and at the official unveiling. That's because Kaka connects with the fans like no other athlete. Kaka has nearly 20 million Twitter followers, more than LeBron James and Kobe Bryant combined. People genuinely care about him because he is a good person and a damn fine athlete.

For Milan, the decision was also a good one. Kaka was making €4 million last season, making him one of the top earners on the club. Milan have now freed up some space, if they so choose to spend some money this off-season. (A big if.)

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 06:  Kaka of AC Milan celebrates scoring his 100th goal for the club during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Atalanta BC at San Siro Stadium on January 6, 2014 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Kaka played 37 times for Milan last season. He made a big impact to start, but then he started to wane. He was played too much. Kaka did not return to Milan to sit on the bench. He had done that enough at Real Madrid. So Clarence Seedorf, and Max Allegri before him, almost had to play him.

Now there is no obligation. And perhaps it is Keisuke Honda who benefits from this move the most. Honda was forced to play as a winger, on the periphery, for much of his first few months with Milan last season. He was not effective at all, coming in right in the middle of the season, and he did not have the space behind the strikers, where he thrives.

Just look at his performances with Japan in the World Cup: Honda scored a beautiful goal, a bullet to the net, and he weaved around the defence several times to find room for himself. He can pick out great passes as well, but he just wasn't afforded the time and place at Milan.

Now Honda can make a fresh start and a real impression on fans. After all, Milan are also the club he rooted for as a child. There is time to establish his own love story with the fans, perhaps even a chant like Kaka's.


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