Milan’s Messiah Returns From The Wilderness

Ricky K

To understand the love that exists between AC Milan, its fans and Kaká, there are few better instances to recall than the events of January 2009. As the year turned, every sports page and conversation was filled with talk about Manchester City’s bid for the Brazilian. Milan, engulfed by debts, had no option but to accept the £107million on offer. City’s wage to the player rumoured to be close to £500,000 a week.

 

During the weekend game that followed the reporting of City’s overtures, the fans had displayed banners reading “Kaká is priceless” and “Hands off Kaká”. On the next Wednesday, a typically cold winter evening in Milan, over 1000 Milanisti gathered outside his house in the city to implore him to stay. They got their wish; the evening ended with Kaká holding up a Milan shirt out the window, his name and number facing towards the crowd, gesturing towards his heart.

 

Not many players would have elicited such a forceful and affectionate reaction to rumours they were about to leave their clubs. Even fewer would have stayed. Although Milan’s desperate need to sell saw him leave for Real Madrid six months later, it was an exit filled with tears. Kaká’s sale did nothing to damage his deity status in his spiritual home. If anything, it was furthered: 15,000 season ticket holders did not renew after it.

 

There were similar scenes last week outside Milanello, as his re-signing was announced. The crowds were far smaller, but just like that night four and a half long years ago, it culminated in Kaká holding the red and black striped shirt towards the cheering and singing crowd. The number 22, which had been left vacant since his departure, was given straight back to him.

 

Many, myself included (regrettably), believed that Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at Real Madrid would give his career with Los Blancos a new joie de vivre. As it happened, he was told that the purchases of Isco and Gareth Bale meant there was no room for him, despite Mesut Özil’s sale to Arsenal. As Real were now turning their backs, there was no doubt as to where Kaká would go.

 

Milan and Real Madrid had attempted to negotiate a loan for the Brazilian in January. Kaká had already agreed a significant paycut until Real demanded money that Milan did not have (read: some), and the deal collapsed. The difference this summer was that Real were willing to let him go for free. He took a cut of over 50%, from around €10million to €4million per year. He could have earned more elsewhere, but the calls from home and the chance to reignite the old romance were too much to ignore.

 

As previously discussed, Kaká had a rough time of it in Madrid, but he is far from broken. Since their parting in 2009, Milan themselves have also had a less-than steady time of it. Similarly for both of them, a sole league title has been unable to cover the deep-set issues. For the club, these problems stretched to a financial chasm. But, like their returned hero, the promises of greater things are upon them once more.

 

Milan, still as poor as Silvio Berlusconi’s case for the defence, have had to go a new way around team building: their focus has been shifted more onto youth development and cheaper, riskier imports, ranging from the youthful and/or less tested (such as Riccardo Saponara and Andrea Poli) to the more expensive, but perceived damaged goods (Kaká, Mario Balotelli).

 

Adriano Galliani boldly proclaimed at the summer’s start that the plan was to move the first team to a 4-3-1-2. This was, of course, the primary formation under which they achieved so much success under Carlo Ancelotti. Kaká was at its heart, mostly playing as the ‘1’, but occasionally as a second striker, in times of need. He will make up for the final third creativity they have been missing, as well as being the key to enabling this formational change. There will be no problems fitting him in with Milan’s already-established regulars, or even ingratiating him into a wildly different system – it is just a copy of the one that was built for him.

 

Highly warranted worries about their defence notwithstanding, they have managed to put together a very impressive side. There is a squad lacks depth (and some quality) in the defensive areas, but with Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli they have a core of fantastic young players, and lifelong Milan fans. And with them, there are the likes of captain Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel De Jong, Giampaolo Pazzini and Kaká himself, providing their own ability, with experience.

 

That said, the defence cannot be brushed over entirely. It was starting to look like a far stronger unit at the end of last season, but they remain inconsistent and worrying. De Jong’s presence and the systemic changes will see them better protected, and time together will hopefully have put them more and more at ease in eachothers’ company. Though I’ll believe that one when I see it.

 

Milan saw how reunions can go when Andriy Shevchenko came back and scored just 2 in 26 games, none of which came in the league. But with Kaká the risk is far less, and the gains are potentially far greater. Kaká is almost a human morale boost for Milan now. With austerity having been thrust upon them, Kaká must now lead a younger and weaker Milan back to the top, just as he did the great and powerful one of his first spell.

 

A Scudetto remains highly unlikely this season, but they will have a far greater say in proceedings than they did last term. It is easy to forget that in 2013, they lost just one in 19 – and that was against Juventus. Balotelli’s influence was quickly felt. Perhaps Kaká’s will be, too. Significant problems remain, but they are stronger than they were last season. If they can play like they did in its second half and meet some luck, their challenge will have more strength to it, to say the least. Or maybe, as was so often their way, Kaká and Milan will excel in the Champions League.

 

Kaká and Milan has always been the most symbiotic of relationships. They have always managed to enhance and bring the best from one other. The adoration is shared and unquestionable. At this point, they need eachother. Kaká can’t give what he did upon his arrival 8 years ago, but at 31 he is still a very special player. Milan’s young side has their figurehead. Kaká is back on his throne.

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