Is Kaká a failed galáctico?
Is Kaká fated to be the first casualty of the second galáctico era? Reports this morning that his mother had used the social networking website Twitter to announce an August departure to London for her son has reignited speculation that Chelsea are about to sign the Brazilian playmaker. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich tried to buy his services on at least two occasions when he was a Milan player, the first after the 2006 World Cup and the second after Luiz Felipe Scolari took charge at Stamford Bridge just prior to the 2008-9 season. On neither occasion did Abramovich get his man, but indications are that Kaká may be ready to leave Madrid and some in the British capital are now hopeful that the time has finally come, though there have also been rumblings from the red and black half of Milan to the effect that a return to Italy may be his choice of preference.
Whether Kaká chooses London, Milan, to stay in Madrid or to go elsewhere, the consensus seems to be that Madrid’s new dawn has broken without him. When his move from Milan was confirmed publicly by the clubs on the 8th of June 2009, for a fee of close to €70 million, it was assumed that Madrid would build their midfield around him, as Milan had done and Brazil had been doing for several seasons. The deal had been brokered by Florention Pérez, the man who had overseen what came to be known as the galáctico project, when he signed the superstars Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham over four consecutive summers from 2000 to 2003. Pérez had then wanted to build a team of awesome attacking prowess that would elegantly swat aside all comers and conquer Spain and Europe alike. Now in 2009, with the signing of Kaká, it looked as though he was starting all over again
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo for over €10 million more from Manchester United and of Karim Benzema for a comparatively frugal €35 from Lyon had the football world scratching its head in disbelief. Pérez had managed to compress three summers’ worth of buying into little under a month. He wasn’t done, however. Xabi Alonso was lured from Liverpool and Madrid looked set to begin their ambitious project.
Except that two of his new galácticos seemed incompatible. Though the original project had been criticised for its commitment to attack at the expense of defence, at least the players complemented one another. Ronaldo was an out-and-out striker, Zidane the trequartista, and Beckham and Figo on the wings, though the Englishman was at times deployed more centrally. This time around he had two players through whom the play had to be channelled. Two players at their best in free roles running at defenders in the final third of the pitch. One of them had to be sacrificed, and, as is often the case, money talked. The more expensive player became the focal point as Kaká endured a largely disappointing first season at the Bernabeu.
More high-profile signings followed in the summer of 2010 with German World Cup stars Mesut Özil and Sami Kedhira brought in from Werder Bremen and Stuttgart respectively, and Ángel di María from Porto. To their number was added Spain under-19 midfielder Sergio Canales, from whom much was expected after a dazzling season with Racing Santander. There was no shortage of attacking talent, and manager José Mourinho had to be ruthless. Khedira and Alonso typically formed the base of a five man midfield operating in two bands, with Özil nominally flanked by di María and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom frequently moved into forward positions alongside the lone striker.
At least the period of convalescence after knee surgery conducted in August freed Kaká from the ignominy of an entire season spent starting on the bench while Cristiano Ronaldo, Ángel di María et al. ran riot. But even since his return in January he has hardly been central to Mourinho’s plans. Kaká seems to have been the victim of two key differences between the two galáctico eras. First, the decision to buy more than one superstar a season. Had Kaká been able to enjoy an entire season as Madrid’s central player he may well have treated Spanish crowds to the sort of displays that consistently won him rapturous plaudits in Italy. Second, is the emphasis on youth. Kaká was 27 when he arrived at the Bernabeu. Of the midfield and forward stars of the first era, only Ronaldo joined at a younger age. Of the newer generation, only Xabi Alonso is Kaká’s senior. Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Özil, di María and Khedira were all 24 or younger at the time of their respective signings. At 26 Cristiano Ronaldo is still a year younger than Kaká was on his arrival. Much like Madrid legend Raúl, who was ushered out of the door at the beginning of this season, Kaká may be finding that time is catching up with him. Yesterday’s confirmation of the 22-year-old Nuri Sahin’s transfer from Borussia Dortmund means yet another youthful player will be battling for a midfield berth.
A possible return to Milan has been mooted. However, with Santos’s Paulo Henrique Ganso and reportedly Palermo’s Argentinian playmaker Javier Pastore, on the Rossoneri‘s radar it seems unlikely that manager Massimiliano Allegri will be keen to gamble on a former star. Club president Silvio Berlusconi will likely be haunted by memories of Andriy Shevchenko’s calamitous return to the ground where he had once been an idol and though he has talked about the Brazilian in warm terms is surely unlikely to be so sentimental as to be cajoled into sanctioning his former player’s return. Moreover, with election season approaching, Italy’s Prime Minister will be keen to build on the goodwill generated by Milan’s recent domestic success and thus more likely to release the funds necessary to bring in a creative player who will provide greater continuity, such as Pastore, who is currently thriving in Italian football.
So perhaps Kaká’s mum should be believed when she says that her son will be moving to London in August. If I were a Chelsea fan I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up, though. I would instead be praying that Kaká wasn’t making a decision motivated by panic like another former darling of world football, Liverpool’s former striker Fernando Torres. Like Kaká ,Torres has been underwhelming for the better part of two years now, and, again like Kaká, Torres believes he remains capable of competing with the sport’s very best. Torres’s struggles in Chelsea blue to recapture his best form have been amusing to Liverpool’s supporters and frustrating to those of his new club. Do the Stamford Bridge faithful really want to have two former deadly hitmen misfiring on the pitch at the same time?
Kaká has been a wonderful player, and one hopes that at 29 he still has at the very least another three or four years of top-flight football left to play. But perhaps he has fallen afoul first of the merciless schedule of the modern day professional athlete, and second of one Spanish club president’s hubris. He has disappointed at the Bernabeu, but he was put into a team that was never going to be able to play to his strengths as long as the dominant personality of Cristiano Ronaldo was on the pitch.
What do you think?