In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Kaka discusses his surprise visit to Hackney, why Carlo Ancelotti is so good, and what happened to the No 10 role in football
Wednesday 9 December 2020 17:59, UK
‘Kaka, cut back!’
The earnest enthusiasm of Ali Aden became a meme in February of this year. This was the confirmation that the country really was sick of the experts. An amateur player from Hackney screaming for a World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner to square the ball in his direction only to see him smash it left-footed into the top corner instead.
The decision of Kaka to swap his summer in Sao Paulo for a Haggerston football pitch, surprising a team short of a player as part of an adidas campaign, certainly caused a stir. "It was amazing because I did not expect it to explode like that," Kaka tells Sky Sports.
The Brazilian is well used to team-mates screaming for the ball, however. Did Pippo Inzaghi ever yell for the pass during their days together at AC Milan? "It happened a few times," he laughs.
"I have been there too myself with me asking players to cut it back. I played with some amazing players like Andriy Shevchenko, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Sometimes you pass the ball to these guys and think it is impossible they are going to score from this situation. Just give it me back and I will try something different. But then they score the goal. All you can do then is just celebrate with them and offer congratulations."
After a year of debate, Aden still insists that Kaka should have passed it. Now the challenge is on again with adidas GMR in-sole and chip technology allowing the pair to compete by recording who has the most powerful shot. Kaka has already sent over his numbers.
"When you score a goal, it is really hard to say you were wrong. But Ali has the chance to prove that I made the wrong decision. We will see if he could have done it better."
Out of Kaka's former team-mates, who does he think was the best striker of a ball? "Maybe Adriano," he replies. "He had a powerful shot. But I think Roberto Carlos is number one."
During the course of a wide-ranging conversation that takes in Kaka's career with the Brazil national team as well as his adventures with AC Milan and Real Madrid, he drops some of the most famous names in the history of the game. It is a reminder of all that he achieved.
Kaka is one of only six men in history to have won the World Cup, the Champions League and the Ballon d'Or. No active player - male or female - has accomplished the feat.
Luka Modric may have broken up the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in claiming the Ballon d'Or for 2018 but you have to go back more than a decade earlier - to the year of 2007 - to find a player truly regarded as superior to the game's big two.
That player was Kaka.
His goal in Hackney may have caused a social media storm but he has always had an affinity for the spectacular when in England. His goal against Argentina in a 2006 friendly at the Emirates Stadium, when he dispossessed Lionel Messi in his own half before racing away to score, seemed designed to underline the fact that he was the main man.
"That goal is one of the top three in my career," he says.
The following year there came an even more famous goal - again in England, this time at Old Trafford in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final against Manchester United. Ronaldo was the one overshadowed this time as Milan went on to lift the trophy.
"The other one would be against Fenerbahce in San Siro," says Kaka, "but I never realised that, of the top three goals in my career, two of them were in England. The goal against Manchester United in the semi-final is probably the most beautiful goal that I ever scored.
"I think 2007 was the peak of my career. That was when I won most of the important trophies that could be won. The Champions League, the Club World Cup, the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA player of the year. Of course, there are other trophies but 2007 was my peak."
That success, Kaka readily admits, owed much to his Milan team-mates. Kaka played off the striker but there was creativity elsewhere in midfield with Andrea Pirlo operating as a deep-lying playmaker and Clarence Seedorf drifting inside off the left flank.
He was allowed to play to his strengths, picking the ball up and running at opponents, while Inzaghi's movement opened up the space ahead of him. A rock solid defence that included Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta made for a formidable group.
"It was perfect," recalls Kaka. "It is not just about talent, we all know that. Of course, talent is important. But football is kind of a puzzle and you have to put the pieces together.
"There were so many leaders in the team and no vanity so everybody wanted to win, no matter who scored. When you have this kind of situation with a group like that, the puzzle was perfect and we had amazing results. We also had an amazing coach in Carlo Ancelotti."
Kaka spent six seasons under Ancelotti at Milan, winning everything together. He went on to spend three seasons with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid but the Italian still stands out.
"Every coach that I had in my career, I learned something from them. Everyone you work with can teach you something, whether it is tactically, technically or just something personal. But Carlo was the best one for me because he brought the very best out of me.
"The most impressive characteristic that he has got, in my opinion, is his ability to manage people. Man-management is so important. Of course, he is really good with tactics and he understands the game and everything, but it was how he managed the players.
"You have a squad of 25 players and you can only put 11 on the field. What are you going to do with the others? How are you going to keep them motivated? He knew how to do that. Everywhere he goes, when he leaves, he leaves this nice feeling with the players' hearts."
Real Madrid broke the world transfer record to take Kaka to Spain in 2009 - although they broke it within weeks to sign Ronaldo from Manchester United. At 27, he should have been at his peak but his body shape had changed from the lithe youngster speeding beyond defenders and the nature of the challenge at Madrid placed different demands.
"I had to change a little bit of my game," he explains. "Real Madrid's style is really aggressive so when we were winning 3-0, the supporters were still shouting for us to score more goals. This is Real Madrid's style, really aggressive all the time. Sometimes you have to adapt."
Kaka's game changed but one wonders whether football itself still finds a role for the No 10. The Brazilian often found himself competing for a place with Mesut Ozil at Madrid but the Arsenal playmaker now finds himself on the fringes, almost an anachronism.
Football seems to favour systems over individual expression, with the team's most creative players pushed out to the flanks to operate as wide forwards. The popularity of more workmanlike teams with an emphasis on pressing means that the position once occupied by the most exciting players in the world has ceased to exist at some of the top clubs.
"We do not have the classic No 10 anymore," says Kaka.
"I have seen this change in the game. The situation is awkward because it is not that we do not have these players, it is just that other positions are viewed as more important. Instead, we have this 4-3-3 where the three players in midfield are box to box."
Does he have a theory why it has happened?
"Now, it is quite important for the defensive line to be high," he explains.
"When the line is high, the space is smaller so the No 10 no longer has the space in which to think about the play. Before, we had a little bit of space because the defenders were scared that this guy could play the pass. That opened up the field a bit."
One way for Kaka to change that would be to embark on a coaching career of his own, joining former team-mates such as Pirlo, Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso in the Serie A dugout.
There are no plans just yet.
"Maybe in three to five years I will want to go back to the field and be closer to the players," he says, "but right now I see myself more in a managerial role."
In the meantime, he is in Sao Paulo, his travel restricted for much of 2020, but he has been keeping busy, working towards his UEFA Executive Master for International Players online, with a view to a future in football administration. A third child arrived in October so there has been valuable family time too. Not that he has forgotten his athletic side.
"I want to run a marathon next year," he says. "My life is still training. I plan to do Berlin in September. I was going to do it this year but it did not happen because of the virus. Hopefully, the vaccine is coming soon. I want to come back because I miss London."
Maybe Kaka will be coming to a pitch near you soon.
Just don't expect him to cut it back.
Kaka was speaking as part of the adidas GMR campaign, which challenges the loudmouths and calls out the pretenders to 'Prove it with GMR'. For more, visit adidas.co.uk/GMR