On September 1, 2003, a young Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite made his official debut for Milan. Despite his tender years and inexperience, Carlo Ancelotti played him from the start. It came as a surprise to most, after all this was a team that included the likes of Rivaldo, Clarence Seedorf and Manuel Rui Costa – all of whom had to be content with a place on the bench.
What was most surprising about Ancelotti’s decision was that two months prior, he himself knew little about Milan’s new Brazilian signing. He famously quipped upon seeing Kaka arrive in Milan: “Oh God, we’ve signed a university student.”
But such was the impact that Kaka made on the training grounds at Milanello that Ancelotti would later remark: “He wasn’t at Zinedine Zidane’s level, but almost. The second best player I’ve coached and definitely the most intelligent… The following training sessions were like the first. The third, the fourth, the fifth, all the same, a show.” Thus, Kaka found himself thrusted into the first team and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to now, 10 years later almost to the day, and Kaka is on the verge of making his debut again for Milan. And the feelings are much the same for the player. "I'm happy with all this excitement, I am like a little boy who is about to debut.”
Though, of course, Kaka is no child any more. At 31 years old, he is now one of the senior players in the squad. He is also a different player. That speed with which he used to glide gracefully beyond defenders is no longer there. But the hunger remains. “I will do everything possible to play well and make the fans happy… we want to win.”
Though he may not admit it, despite all the success he has had in his career, Kaka probably feels he has a point to prove. Four years at Real Madrid marked by injuries, lack of playing time and poor form has cast a shadow over an otherwise glittering career. Now back at Milan, with all the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding his return, Kaka is hoping to turn back the clock.
Expectations, though, should be tempered and time is required, as former teammate Gennaro Gattuso has cautioned. “Patience is needed with Kaka. I hope the fans don’t expect to see the Kaka of the past. The Brazilian hasn’t played that much over the last three years and he hasn’t been expressing himself at his levels.”
While Kaka may not quite be as good as he used to be, this does not mean he cannot be a real asset to the Diavolo. He is still a player of a quality that most can only ever dream of. And he will contribute with goals and assists even if not to the extent that he once did.
Boss Massimiliano Allegri is certainly happy with the new addition to his team. “He is a player of great quality that we can do with.” With the lack of naturally creative players at Allegri’s disposal, Kaka’s attacking abilities should prove useful.
It is not just his qualities on the field that Kaka will bring. According to Allegri, Kaka is already spending a lot of his time at Milanello where his mere presence “has raised the level of self-confidence throughout the squad.” This can only be positive for the younger players who will be able to learn from his experience and professionalism. Milan’s promising young attacking midfielder Riccardo Saponara is one of them: “I’m watching him closely. I really want to learn as much as I can.”
Just like back in 2003, Kaka is likely to debut from the start and thus will begin his second coming with Milan. It may not quite be the same journey together this time around for both player and club, but this doesn’t mean it will not be a fruitful one.