Illustration kindly provided by Mark Johnson whose other work can be found here.
Brazil legend Kaká has called time on his phenomenal footballing career, with his retirement signifying not only the loss of one of the game’s greatest ever players, but also the end of an amazing era of Brazilian football. The 35-year-old was the last man standing from that sensational World Cup squad that brought so much joy to the beautiful game in 2002, yet his retirement brings with it a sense of despair as not a single player from that fantastic group will ever take to the field of play ever again.
The former AC Milan playmaker was just 20-years-old during that successful campaign on the world stage – the youngest of the entire squad – and although participating in just 20 minutes of football as a late substitute in the 5-2 victory against Costa Rica, simply being in the presence of names such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and countless others will have made a lasting impact on the young man from Gama. The majestic midfielder ended his Canarinho career with 29 goals in 92 appearances, and graced the pitch with some of the finest footballers that the world has ever seen.
Kaká’s endless trophy cabinet is compiled from an incomparable 15-year career which began in the streets of Sao Paulo and ended in the world-famous city of Orlando, Florida, yet his best years on the pitch were spent with the once-Italian giants between 2003 and 2009, during which he clinched the 2003/04 Serie A title and the 2007 Club World Cup. His success culminated in the 2007 Champions League win over Liverpool, a run which witnessed countless of his famous mazy dribbles, unparalleled creativity and deadly composure in front of goal. His time with Real Madrid brought with it the 2011 Copa del Rey trophy, followed by the league title just one year later, while the artistic midfielder then became a cult hero in the USA during his brief spell in Orlando, immediately winning the fans over with his unique style of play that encompassed countless outstanding goals and dazzling assists.
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Ricardo Kaká as he is more commonly known, has also made tremendous strides off the pitch, where his humanitarian work is gratefully accepted. He became the youngest ambassador of the UN World Food Programme in 2004, and was subsequently named in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in both 2008 and 2009, the former of which comprised the likes of Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. The devout Christian became enveloped by religion from a young age, and often expressed his gratitude to the higher powers that helped shape his career, through phrases such as “I Belong to Jesus” and “God Is Faithful” etched onto his t-shirt and his boots in an act of solidarity with his earnest religious beliefs.
Kaká’s achievements on the piece led to much-deserved success of it, with Kaká receiving several personal awards for his sheer brilliance in the middle of the field, peaking in his 2007 Ballon d’Or, where he became one of only eight players to win the award along with a World Cup and European Cup/ Champions League. The ex-Real Madrid man joins an exclusive list of globally renowned names to win the prestigious treble, with the other magnificent seven comprising fellow Brazilians Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, Manchester United star Bobby Charlton, Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer and finally Paolo Rossi.
The Brazilian’s extensive list of personal honours also includes being named in both the FIFPro World XI and the UEFA Team of the Year three times, while in 2010 he became a member of the esteemed AC Milan Hall of Fame. The 2007 Ballon d’Or win however not only conveys just how talented he was, but also, and perhaps more significantly, it exemplifies how much the world of football will miss him, having been the most recent player to win the award outside of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, who, incredibly, have won the award for the last ten years. It may be quite some time until we witness someone brave enough to topple the Real Madrid legend or the Barcelona magician from their perch, but whoever it may be, they will require all the guile, flair and ability that Kaká had in abundance, although perhaps even more.
The well-wishes and congratulatory messages have been flooding in since the announcement, with every professional throughout the world of football expressing their gratitude for how much the Brazilian has given to the game. Not only is this wonderful talent the last of that regal national team to hang up his boots, his retirement also brings with it the additional, almost heart-breaking, detail that he was the last remaining veteran of the formidable AC Milan side that took the footballing world by storm early in the 21st century. In a generation comprising all the class and vigour of English midfielders like David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, and Paul Scholes, Kaká undoubtedly shone brightest on the European and indeed the international stage, and his retirement may signal the end of a simply stunning phase of the beautiful game.