Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
One of the many world class players to grace the MLS with their talent this season is Orlando City’s Kaká. The Brazilian playmaker has played for some of the biggest teams in the world, and won countless individual accolades during his storied career. The player that once cost Real Madrid over €68.5 million, has traveled to America with the hope of adding to his already legendary résumé.
Ricardo Kaká’s talent with a ball was first discovered by Sao Paolo FC when the Brazilian squad signed the 15-year-old to their youth system. Just three years later, the playmaker suffered a career-threatening neck injury from a pool accident. The horrendous injury nearly paralyzed Kaká, but the 18-year-old managed to make a full recovery that he attributes to his faith in God.
Only a year after his recovery, the 20-year-old made his professional debut for Sao Paolo. In his first season in Brazil’s top division, the young Kaká immediately made his name known to the soccer-loving nation. In 27 appearances for the club, Kaká scored 12 times. His second year with the senior side saw the midfielder produce more of the same emphatic performances as he notched another 10 goals in only 22 matches. The impressive two-year introduction to the world garnered the attention of Italian powerhouse AC Milan, and also of the heralded Brazilian national team.
Kaká was called up for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Despite not playing more than 30 minutes in the entire tournament, the 20-year-old earned himself a winner’s medal win the Brazilian side won their fifth title.
Filling the Trophy Cabinet
Milan brought the emerging star to Serie A in 2003 for just €8.5 million. A fee that would prove to be the bargain of the decade as Kaká comfortably transitioned to European play scoring 10 goals in his first season in Italy. The 10-goal season earned the Brazilian a nomination for the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year, and also helped the Rossoneri to the Serie A title.
For the next several years, Kaká solidified himself as a constant fixture in Milan’s midfield and established his reputation as one of the world’s most talented players. During his six-year spell with the club, Kaká won a Champions League title, the Italian Super Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and a FIFA Club World Cup. In addition to his club accolades, the Brazilian was the Serie A Player of the Year three times, a member of FIFA’s Team of the Year three times, while also beating out the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or in 2007, among countless other medals.
This growing trophy cabinet inspired Real Madrid to spend a then-record fee to bring the Milan midfielder to the Spanish capital. Kaká’s time in La Liga was tarnished by injury, as the Brazilian was never able to rediscover his Ballon d’Or form. Surgery on a knee injury in 2010 sidelined Kaká for eight months, and being forced out for several more weeks the following season. Despite the injuries, the world-record signing managed to help Madrid to the 2012 La Liga title, the 2011 Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup in 2012, while also becoming Brazil’s leading goal scorer in the Champions League. 2013 saw the midfielder declare his intention to leave the club over the summer. In 120 appearances for Los Blancos, Kaká scored just 29 goals and registered 32 assists.
AC Milan were eager bring their former star back and signed him on a free transfer from Madrid in 2013. However, injuries again plagued the Brazilian as he tore a leg muscle in his competitive debut in his comeback. The return to Italy saw Kaká appear 37 times and score nine goals. After just one season back in Italy, rumors started to swirl, linking the World Cup winner to MLS’s Orlando City.
After terminating his Milan contract through mutual consent, Orlando City made Kaká their first designated player signing and the highest paid player in the league. In the period before the MLS kicked off their inaugural season, Kaká returned to his boyhood club Sao Paolo on loan. His time back in Brazil ended after 24 appearances and just three goals.
His first two games in the MLS have shown that the creative midfielder still has some gas in the tank. Orlando’s first ever competitive match saw Kaká score an equalizing free kick late in the game against fellow debut side NYCFC. He almost scored an even more impressive goal against the Houston Dynamo the following week only to see Tyler Deric make a highlight reel save.
Style of Play
Kaká occupies the center of the park for whatever team he plays for. He exhibits the traditional flair and creativity that Brazil is famous for, while also being composed in distributing the ball. The creative midfielder served as the spark for attacks and moves from the backline. While deadly passing the ball, Kaká is equally dangerous from set pieces. The Brazilian can also be deployed on the wings and on the front line if necessary.