By Marco Trombetta
The 77th minute of Saturday's game against Udinese marked the return of Kaka to San Siro, with the Brazilian's entrance accompanied by a standing ovation from the AC Milan fans who had been waiting for this exact moment ever since he re-joined the Rossoneri. The 31-year-old again feels the affection that he never experienced at Real Madrid. There's no doubt about it: in Milan, people are counting on Kaka again.
During his 15 minutes on the pitch, the attacking midfielder attempted to show what he is still capable of: some impressive accelerations, a number of fine passes and a superb pass for M'Baye Niang, who wasted the ball. It wasn't much, but an encouraging sign nonetheless. Indeed, his brief cameo was proof that Kaka still has what it takes to become a key figure at Milan and once again be decisive in the jersey in which he won so many trophies.
Some have said that Kaka will need time to get back to his best, but the Brazilian realises more than anyone else he has no time to waste. Milan are in need of a leader, someone to carry the team on his shoulders and lead the way. In recent months, Mario Balotelli has become that person, but 'Supermario' is unlikely to feature on Tuesday due to injury, so it's up to Milan's No.22 to rise to the occasion.
Admittedly, Kaka is not in peak condition just yet after his recent injury problems, but it seems inevitable that Massimiliano Allegri will turn to Kaka to fill the leadership void left by Balotelli.
|KAKA' VS BARCA:
|8||Games on the bench
The game against Barcelona could very well be a turning point for the 31-year-old, although he has few good memories of facing the Catalans. In fact, in 11 games versus Barca, he has won just twice and has yet to score.
The first time Kaka took on the Blaugrana was October 20, 2004, when he was still wearing the Milan jersey and it ended on a rare positive note as the Rossoneri won 1-0. However, since then, Kaka has struggled to trouble the Liga champions.
Milan were beaten 2-1 at Camp Nou later that season and would be eliminated by the Blaugrana in the semi-finals the following year after a narrow 1-0 loss at San Siro and a scoreless draw in Catalunya. Kaka played 90 minutes in both encounters, yet failed to make an impact.
Overall, he recorded just one win over Barcelona in four previous outings with Milan. And things weren't much better for him with Real Madrid. He first locked horns with Barca as a Madridista in 2009-10 and left Camp Nou disappointed after a 1-0 defeat. He played the entire game, but yet again without much success.
There was a minor improvement the following season as Madrid earned a 1-1 draw in the Catalan capital, but Kaka was taken off at the hour mark when his side were trailing 1-0. In 2011-12, there was another 3-2 loss in the Supercopa de Espana and a 2-2 draw in the Copa del Rey. Despite all the goals in those games, though, Kaka did not manage to add his name to the score sheet as he amassed just 72 minutes.
Only in his last season at Madrid did Kaka emerge victorious, with the Brazilian somewhat surprisingly selected from the start in the Liga meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu and lasting about an hour of a 2-1 win.
Kaka has given Barcelona little trouble over the past few years. Indeed, in 11 games, he has been a part of two wins, four draws and five defeats. Additionally, Kaka had to settle for a spot on the bench or stands on eight more occasions. Most worrying, though, is his failure to find the net against Barca.
Kaka's statistics therefore give no grounds for optimism ahead of Tuesday night's encounter, particularly in light of the Rossoneri's stuttering form so far this season. However, Milan find themselves counting on him once again. It's just like the old days. Maybe we'll see the old Kaka.