There are eight players to have won the World Cup, European Cup/Champions League, and the Ballon D’or. As you can imagine, this list is full of some of the game’s legends. Bobby Charlton, Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Paulo Rossi, Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho.
These days, he’s more famous for who he’s not, the answer to a trivia question: who was the last player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or? Or, as others have put it, the last “mere mortal” to have won the award.
Anyone who saw Kaka at his peak would have laughed at suggestions that the Brazilian was a mere mortal. He glided past defenders, split defences with his passes, and scored outrageous goals. If that sounds like anyone we know now, let’s not forget what he did to Messi himself. Late in a Brazil-Argentina friendly in 2006, an Argentina corner was cleared to Kaka with Messi in close attention. Kaka ran the length of the pitch, out-sprinting his fellow genius, who gave up, pulled out of the race, and watched Kaka beat two of his defenders before slipping the ball into back of the net with a nonchalant finish.
Or what he did with Ronaldo, far too few times, after they joined forces at Real Madrid in 2009. The new Galactico era began that summer, with Karim Benzema also joining Los Blancos in the same window, but Kaka’s injury struggles at the club meant their era never really began. Instead it would be other Galacticos who would make Madrid a dominant force again.
But for a few glorious moments, Kaka and Ronaldo showed exactly what they were: two of the world’s best players, feeding off each other perfectly. It was a genuine bromance, destroyed by injuries.
And that was when Ronaldo was the sort of player who needed to be on the ball all the time. Imagine what a Kaka in his prime could have done with the Ronaldo of today.
Instead, the Kaka of today is no longer an active footballer, after the Brazilian confirmed what most of us knew in October and officially announced his retirement.
It was much more than I could ever imagined. Thank you! I’m now ready for the next journey. In Jesus name. Amem.
Foi muito mais do que eu pedi ou imaginei!Obrigado! Eis-me aqui para próxima jornada. Em nome de Jesus. Amém. pic.twitter.com/PofZBAV0BE
— Kaka (@KAKA) December 17, 2017
The “next journey” could well see a return to the shores where he was once a hero. His six-year spell at AC Milan, from 2003 to 2009, saw the heyday of one of the finest footballers of his generation. In a team that had Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Shevchenko, and Paolo Maldini, just to name a few, Kaka was arguably the best player. He remains one of only 10 players to have scored over 100 goals for Milan. If he does get offered a director’s role at the club, he’ll have earned it.
Kaka was the Serie A Footballer of the Year in his debut season in Italy, the only Brazilian other than Ronaldo to win the award, as he helped Milan win the Scudetto.
When Shevchenko left, Kaka became the focal point of Milan’s attack, and how he delivered. A superb pass here, a stunning goal there, all done with a humility and joy that made him instantly lovable. The 2005 Champions League final may have turned into a Liverpool miracle but for 45 minutes, it was all about Kaka. He won a free-kick that led to Milan’s opener, began the play that ended with their second, and played an incredible, sumptuous ball into Hernan Crespo for their third.
Kaka scored 17 league goals the following season, then, in 2006-07, he single-handedly led Milan’s Champions League revenge mission, finishing as that season’s top scorer and second-best assist provider in the tournament.
He scored the only goal of their round of 16 tie against Celtic, an extra-time goal in the second leg, then scored again in the quarter-finals, and three times in the semi-finals. Manchester United fans will remember the last of those performances well. At Old Trafford, Kaka absolutely terrorised the United defence, scoring one of the best goals in the competition’s history. A flick over Gabriel Heinze, a nod past Patrice Evra, and then a calm, rolled finish past Edwin Van der Sar. The icing on the cake: the sight of Heinze and Evra colliding as Kaka left them in his wake.
Then, of course, the perfect script: Liverpool again in the final, and demons exorcised. Kaka was unplayable, assisting one goal and winning the free-kick that led to the other as Milan won 2-1.
The year ended with Kaka handed the Ballon d’Or as Messi and Ronaldo looked on, second and third in the voting. He would never be on the podium again, but for one brief, glorious moment, that looked like the future of football. A 25-year-old Kaka, 22-year-old Ronaldo, and 20-year-old Messi, ready to battle to be the best.
Ronaldo and Messi have spoiled us since then, and Kaka has faded away. The injuries at Real Madrid robbed him of his prime, and arguably also kept him from having a successful international career – his time with Brazil never got better than the 2002 World Cup, when he spent all but 25 minutes watching from the bench as his team-mates won the trophy.
Proof, perhaps, that Kaka is a mere mortal. Nobody would have believed it 10 years ago.
Neymar starred on his return to the Paris Saint-Germain line-up after two games out with two goals and two assists in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of Rennes in Ligue 1, but it was Edinson Cavani’s perfect chip (video above) that stood out.
Neymar missed last weekend’s win over Lille due to suspension and sat out Wednesday’s French League Cup clash at Strasbourg after travelling back to Brazil to deal with a family matter. But he made an immediate impact in Rennes by scoring the opening goal after just four minutes before teeing up Kylian Mbappe to add a second for PSG just past the quarter-hour.
Firmin Mubele halved the deficit after the break, but Rennes were reduced to 10 men when Benjamin Andre picked up a second booking and Edinson Cavani netted PSG’s third on 75 minutes.
Neymar swiftly made it four as he turned home his second goal of the afternoon, while Wahbi Khazri blazed over a late penalty for Rennes after PSG centre-back Presnel Kimpembe was sent off.
Cavani snapped a four-game drought with a brilliant lob on 75 minutes after he collected a lofted pass from Neymar on the edge of the area, his league-best 18th goal of the season ending Rennes’ resistance.
Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid make history on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi when he scored the winner to make Los Blancos the first back-to-back Club World Cup champions.
Ronaldo is the greatest goalscorer in the competition’s history having netted seven goals in eight appearances at the Club World Cup.
Watch the Portuguese’s strike that made the difference against Gremio at Zayed Sports City stadium.