By Kris Voakes
When AC Milan won their seventh and last Champions League title there was simply no doubting who their star man was. As the main threat coming from deep and the scorer of 10 goals, Kaka was the Rossoneri’s heartbeat.
The images of that magnificent run remain as unforgettable as they were six years ago. There was the hat-trick against Anderlecht, the extra-time winner against Celtic, that sensational double at Old Trafford and then the ‘I Belong To Jesus’ proclamation following victory in Athens. Rarely has a European Cup triumph been so intrinsically linked with one player as the one in 2007.
But the longevity of the memories can be very well explained by Kaka’s form over the intervening period. Simply put, he has never been the same player since.
He may have been the subject of a world record €120 million bid from Manchester City in January 2009 and then a €65m sale to Real Madrid five months later, but those were rare moments in the spotlight. On the field, there has been far less sign of the player who won the 2007 Ballon d’Or award with something to spare, massively justifying Milan’s decision to sell him at the age of 27 for a fee only exceeded previously by Madrid’s 2001 signing of Zinedine Zidane.
|KAKA IN MADRID
Yet just as they did having sold Andriy Shevchenko for the right price at the right time in 2006 only to take him back on loan out of sheer sentimentality two years later, Milan have now announced that they have brought back the washed-out shell of his former self that is the 31-year-old Kaka.
Four years of injury and failing form have simply not put off the movers and shakers at Via Turati, who made their fourth tilt at their former No.22 in two years as soon as he had told the world’s press in La Coruna on Friday that now was the right time for him to admit he’d been a failure in Madrid and leave.
One year on from the sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in the name of austerity and the departures of storied names such as Nesta, Seedorf, Gattuso and Inzaghi in favour of a youth policy that had been lacking for several years, the club is suddenly going back on their plan.
A first-team squad boasting forwards such as Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Robinho and Mbaye Niang, yet seriously lacking stocks in both defence and midfield, has been bolstered with exactly the wrong players in exactly the wrong areas in the last few days.
Former youth team product Alessandro Matri has been bought back at the age of 29 for €11m when Carlos Tevez, a player Milan tracked extensively over a long period and who was eventually signed by Juventus to replace the ex-Cagliari forward, was snapped up for €2m less this summer. Yes, Tevez’s wages may have cost more, but he is worth more. Add in the return of Kaka (on a contract of €4m a year), a full seven seasons on from his peak and the club have made a mockery of their own transfer policy.
On Sunday night, they showed exactly what Massimiliano Allegri’s squad needs. They were a clear threat throughout the match in Cagliari territory but creaked from the first minute to the last as a defensive outfit. Heavily stocked with forwards but struggling between their defensive lines, the last thing they need to be doing is wasting millions they don’t have on attackers they don’t need when other departments deserve serious attention. Yet that is what they have done since clinching a place in the Champions League group stage less than five days ago.
Having finally abandoned their sentimental side a year ago and made moves in the market based on forward-thinking business decisions, the club exposed themselves to short-term failure but at least had a plan. In came the likes of Mario Balotelli, Mbaye Niang and Riccardo Saponara, while players like Stephan El Shaarawy were given the greater spotlight they deserved. Yet suddenly, the new philosophy has been quickly thrown out of the window in a week of panic.
Milanisti will rightly now question their club’s decision-makers. Is youth really the future, as they were told 12 months ago, or are the signings of Matri and Kaka endemic of a return to the kind of sentimentality in the market which has undermined their transfer policy over a series of years? Right now their spending patterns appear completely without direction, leaving the first-team squad looking no more ready for the task of mixing a title challenge and a European campaign than they were in 2012-13.Follow Kris Voakes on