A Tale Of Three Cities
Manchester United were at their zenith when AC Milan met them in the Champions League, in 2007. The battle was between two football stalwarts – Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. The match turned out to be a damp squib, as far as this epic battle was concerned.
Milan’s playmaker-in-chief, lorded over United at Old Trafford and although United managed to win 3-2, they needed some generous help from Dida, who made two horrible errors to gift United a couple of goals. Gattuso marked Ronaldo so well that the mercurial Portuguese was nowhere to be seen.
The return leg was an epitome of Men-Versus-Boys. Milan whitewashed a very ordinary United 3-0 at the San Siro en route to the final glory and thus a man became a legend and almost a myth.
In Catalonia, a playmaker by the name of Xavi was lording over lesser mortals, as he served as the fountainhead to all of the attacks by FC Barcelona. The deadly combo of Messi and Eto’o were fed endless balls by this midfield maestro.
For Barcelona, he acted as the Poseidon – the sea god and creator of the seemingly endless waves of attacks, in which the opponents were drowned. He dismantled Real Madrid 6-2 at their hallowed Santiago Bernabeu, as one man by the name Perez looked on helplessly with fury etched all over his royal persona.
At the Spanish capital, Real Madrid were hoping to end their four years of consecutive ouster in the Round Of 16, in Champions League, as they met Liverpool. Eventually it became Real’s fifth elimination in as many years, as the most successful side in European competition lost 5-0 on aggregate to Liverpool.
Throughout both the legs Madrid’s side was screaming about the lack of a media punto – a creator and a controller of game, akin to Xavi and Kaka. The creativity was sorely lacking and all the attacks of Real either seemed to be running into a brick wall or dying a premature death, as the gaping gap in the middle of the field became all too evident.
Guti was there, but his maddening inconsistency had failed to provide any coach the impetus to build a team around him.
Arrival Of The ‘White Knight’
When Perez announced his second homecoming, Madridistas around the world were hoping to see another Zidane.
It seemed that Perez had to choose between Kaka and Ronaldo. I, for one, certainly believed that Kaka was substantially better than Ronaldo. Humble, hardworking and a devoted family man that he is, Kaka seemed to be the natural successor to Zidane. He symbolized all the values that Madridismo demands and loves.
However, Perez had other ideas. Not only did he buy Kaka but also acquired Ronaldo.
The purchase of Kaka was hailed all over, as he promised to inject a sense of urgency and creativity that the Madrid midfield was so sorely lacking and more importantly craving.
Nostalgia And Early Promises
As Kaka arrived, the waves of nostalgia swept across the Spanish capital. Arguably among the old-timers, who had seen Zidane in action for Real, the excitement was palpable. However there was a catch. With Kaka, there was another arrival – Cristiano Ronaldo. Both these players had their previous teams built around them, where they were the reference points. It remained to be seen whether these two were compatible or not.
However, the early signs were promising and both the players seemed to have a mutual respect for each other and laughed off any notions of any conflict.
Kaka in particular had a wonderful start. He hit the ground running and had fantastic pre-season, where his class was in full display. Ronaldo on the other hand had struggled to make a mark and scored just one goal in the pre-season, that too from the spot! As the season started Kaka too progressed fairly well and although there were no displays like that of Milan, the signs were nevertheless encouraging.
Credibility Under Question And The Beginning Of The Fall
However, since December things started going downhill. The lack of sterling displays could no longer be hidden under the garb of settling-in. Although a bit unfair, this was more on the account of his 56 million Pound price tag and also certain individual by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. The latter, after a lame pre-season, started pumping in goals by the truckload. Kaka on the other hand, was unable to manifest as to why exactly he was feared around the world and why he was a Milan sweetheart.
Kaka started suffering minor injuries and the Madrid faithful started to suspect that something was wrong. Rumours had it that the player was a damaged product, so to speak; that Milan was aware of this and that’s why they decided to cash in on him. The buzz on the grapevine was so intense that both the clubs as well as the player had to step in to categorically deny such allegations. However, the pesky doubts did not cease to exist
It was rumoured that to cure this injury a surgery would be required. However, this too didn’t materialize.
An Underwhelming World Cup And A Surgery That Was ‘Not Supposed To Be Required’
With the rumours of injury persisting, Kaka declared that he was fit to take part in the World Cup 2010 and was duly selected. However, his displays were largely ineffectual and despite the three assists, in the end, it was not the Kaka that the world wanted to see.
After the World Cup it was eventually revealed that he would be required to undergo a surgery, that would keep him out for four months. This just served to incense the Real Madrid management, who felt that Kaka had kept country over his paymasters. While this is not a wholly inconsequential sentiment and to be fair to Kaka, it was the World Cup that one was talking about. But the aforementioned surgery could have been performed in January 2010 itself and it would have served both country and club well.
Nonetheless, it is quite possible that his place in the national squad might have come under a threat and nobody can quite speculate on the behind the scenes drama.
Shift In The Balance Of The Power
Jose Mourinho said, “If we lose him(Kaka) for some time it’s no drama, we have other players and that’s it, but he’s one of the best players in the world.” The statement said it all! The former World Player Of The Year was no longer an ‘untouchable’. His absence was no longer a cause for pressing panic buttons. Mourinho might not have said it, but his purchase of Mesut Ozil and keeping Canales on standby told the story loud and clear.
As the season of 2010-11 progressed, Ozil made the ‘media punto’ role his personal property. His creative passing and work ethic gave a sight long desired by the sore eyes of the Bernabeu faithful. Also with him was Ronaldo, who continued his rich vein of form and soon the team was built to suit the playing styles of these two along with Alonso, dictating the proceedings to facilitate the same.
Kaka had become a distant memory, when he came back. Instead of the sound of bugles heralding the return of the king, the soundbites urged caution and it was taken for granted that Ozil would be the more preferred one in the middle of the park.
Que Paso? What happened?
Both the sides, as well as the queer ways of the destiny are to be blamed for this turn of events. Kaka could have opted for surgery early in 2009 after Copa America. But then the marketing considerations might have made Real Madrid play the player and get the surgery done only when it was convenient to them.
On the other hand, January 2010 would have been too close to the World Cup for the player’s liking. Thus he persisted with his injury, when a more conservative approach could have been a better option. Meanwhile in his absence the balance of power shifted and there were already two contenders for his place.
Mourinho clearly feels that he does not need Kaka. His reluctance to sell or loan out Canales to any other team shows that the youngster has it in him to cut it at this level. Despite the lack of chances last season, Mourinho always backed Canales whenever his future was called into question. On the other hand, despite Kaka’s protestations to the contrary whenever a rumour linking him to other clubs is floated, such strong and categorical declarations are not forthcoming from the Real Madrid brass.
One of the biggest reasons for this is his annual salary of 9 million Euros, after taxes. Therefore, having a player on bench with this much salary is fast becoming a monster headache for ‘Los Blancos’. They have already resigned themselves to the fact, that Kaka did not work out the way they planned. Ozil and Canales are the future and Kaka’s value will decrease exponentially in the years to come. Thus, they want to cut their losses and sell him at an acceptable price.
The player on the other hand seems to be unwilling to go. Maybe it is the stature of the club. Maybe it is his salary. Maybe it is his self-respect which has taken a battering since his heydays. Maybe it is desire to prove that he is not a failure or maybe it is a combination of it all.
A sad end to a much awaited transfer seems to be on the cards. As a football fan, it is tragic and heartbreaking to see such a magnificent player and gentleman off the field falling to such a state.
Whatever maybe the case, it seems that Kaka’s days at the ‘Casa Blanca’ are definitely numbered and it seems a case of ‘When’ and not ‘if’ his transfer will take place!