Full name: Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite
Date of birth: 22/04/1982
Brazil’s latest contribution to the pantheon of footballing greats, Kaká has arguably eclipsed his compatriot Ronaldinho as the greatest export in recent years. Both for AC Milan and the Seleção, his reputation has grown and grown, culminating in his eventual decisive contribution to the Italian side’s Champions League victory in 2007. While this may have proved his apex thus far, his general all-round play and remarkable goal-scoring record from deep, coupled with his relative youth, make him one of the best practitioners of the sport in the 21st century.
Early Career In Brazil
Born in the national capital of Brasilia, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite was always a tremendous prospect. Developing his skills in the traditional Brazilian fashion on the streets, it wasn’t long before he made waves in the sport itself, signing a contract with São Paulo at just 15 years old (having been affiliated with the legendary side since the age of 8).
Starting out with the youth side, his impact was immediate as they picked up the Copa de Juvenil and a senior position beckoned. This duly arrived in 2001 and the young Kaká did not need a second chance, scoring consistently throughout his two seasons and even helping the club to the (now seemingly defunct) Torneio Rio-São Paulo championship in 2001.
His development physically and technically in such a short period made him a shoe-in for the national side and Kaká was duly called up for the Brazil side in 2002 against Bolivia. He also made his World Cup debut the same year, joining up with the squad and taking to the field in the tournament, although only for a cumulative 19 minutes. By 2003 though, he was getting greater recognition, reflected in his role as captain for Brazil’s Gold Cup campaign, which ended with defeat in the final and a tournament haul of three goals for Kaká personally.
As is the way, Europe’s finest clubs were put on alert by the young forward’s abilities. This makes it even more remarkable that AC Milan needed to stump up just $8.5 million for his signature in 2003, in contrast to the $40.5 million paid by Real Betis for Denilson in 1998.
The Milanese Phenomenon
Although AC Milan were the-then Champions League holders, Kaká was seemingly undaunted by the prospect of competing with the squad’s many stars. Within a month, he was entered into the first-team against Ancona and immediately impressed in their 2-0 victory. This trend continued throughout his debut season, as the golden boy notched up 10 goals and proved decisive in Milan picking up the Scudetto.
Established in the side as the withdrawn striker, the Brazilian’s form was carried through to the 2004/2005 campaign, although without the same success for the club itself. While Kaká was picking up headlines for his contribution throughout the tournament, AC Milan lost the Champions League final that season in Istanbul in exceptional circumstances to Liverpool on penalties, arguably beating themselves in an insane turnaround.
The disappointment of that defeat carried through the following season, although Kaká himself seemed to use it as incentive to double his efforts and impact. Established in the Brazilian side as a regular by now, his goal tally doubled in 2005/2006, finishing with 14 goals from his withdrawn position.
Coming off the back of such a great season, Kaká was seen as one of the main men to watch in the 2005 World Cup. However, with the entire Brazilian squad painfully off-form and in need of revitalisation, Kaká struggled to make an impact, as the side went out to France in the quarter-finals.
The disappointments seemed to come thick and fast, as club legend Andriy Shevchenko then departed that summer. Testifying to the Brazilian’s spirit though, this apparently only helped Kaká, as the side organically developed with him at its heart. Despite the club’s calamitous league campaign, destroyed by the blow of losing Shevchenko, their modern love affair with the Champions League continued that season, largely courtesy of Kaká. His deciding goal in the knock-out stages against Celtic and overall genius against Manchester United in the semi-final, not to mention his assist in the final, alerted the world to his incredible talents.
After AC Milan took revenge on Liverpool in the final 2-0, Kaká was flooded with plaudits. The Times named him the Best Player in the World, concurring with UEFA’s later assessment, declaring him the Club Footballer of the Year. The big accolades then followed, as Kaká first won the prestigious Ballon d’Or for 2007 and completed the double with the FIFA World Player of the Year, replacing Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro both times.
Now into his fifth season with the Milanese club, Kaká has remained focused and keeps banging in the goals. Whether he will remain in Italy is another matter though and, with Real Madrid having made very public announcements of their desire to sign the Brazilian, you can be certain that Kaká will be in the headlines plenty in the future.
The nickname Kaká refers to the phonology of his first name (Ricardo) but, more specifically, his little brother’s inability to pronounce Ricardo (opting instead for Caca, which soon became Kaká). His upbringing and religion remains a huge influence and it was little surprise that he began to pray after the final whistle in the 2006/2007 Champions League final. He is also a member of Atletas de Criso (Athletes of Christ) and serves as an Ambassador Against Hunger for the UN’s World Food Programme.
In stark contrast to playboy footballers, Kaká married his childhood sweetheart, Caroline Celico, on 23rd September 2005. The two are expecting their first child presently.
Honours And Accolades
- IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker: 2007
- IAAF Latin Sportsman of the Year: 2007
- Onze d’Or: 2007
- Toyota Award: 2007
- FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball: 2007
- Ballon d’Or: 2007
- FIFPro World Player of the Year: 2007
- UEFA Vodafone Fans’ Player of the Season: 2007
- UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: 2007
- UEFA Club Forward of the Year: 2007
- UEFA Champions League Top Scorer: 2007
- FIFPro World XI: 2006, 2007
- UEFA Team of the Year: 2006, 2007
- UEFA Champions League Best Midfielder: 2005
- Serie A Footballer of the Year: 2004, 2007
- Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year: 2004, 2006, 2007
- Serie A Young Footballer of the Year: 2003
- CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI: 2003
- Campeonato Brasileiro Bola de prate (best player by position): 2002
- Revista Placar Bola de Ouro: 2002