The former AC Milan and Real Madrid star Kaka is considered as one of the greatest players of his generation and wowed audiences throughout the world. His retirement leaves a gaping hole in the football world and football fans all over will miss him running out on the pitch. Here, we look back at five of the best moments from his terrific career.
5. Winning the Serie A in his debut season with Milan
Kaka moved abroad to seek pastures anew in Milan after enjoying an exceptional stint with Sao Paulo. Signed for a meager €8.5 million fee, which was described in retrospect as "peanuts" by AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi, the Brazilian wonderkid took little time in nailing a first-team berth.
He occupied a position in the midfield three, playing slightly behind the dynamic attacking trio of Jon Dahl Tomasson, Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko. Working in cahoots with them, Kaka slowly established himself as a vital cog in the Milan midfield.
The prolific Brazilian attacking midfielder racked up an impressive 10 league goals in 30 appearances that season and provided several assists to his teammates. In fact, he played the all-important cross into the stride of Shevchenko that won Milan the league title. Due to that pass, in particular, Kaka formed a special bond with the San Siro faithful.
His performances in his debut season in Europe did not go unnoticed as he was named as the Serie A Player of the Year, and was also nominated for the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He did not win either of them, but it was the start of a happy romance with AC Milan.
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4. Winning the Golden Ball and the Confederations Cup in 2009
After a disappointing 2006 World cup, Kaka played in his next international competition at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Wearing the number 10 jersey, the Brazilian proved to everyone that he still had it in him as he guided the Selecao to their second consecutive Confederations Cup crown.
It was a moment to savour on a personal note for Kaka as he made the most of his inclusion and won the Golden Ball award for that tournament. His two goals came in Brazil's opening group encounter against Egypt.
As the competition progressed, Kaka amassed a couple of assists en route to lifting the trophy after beating the United States in the final. His appearance in that game saw him being named Man of the Match and added bonus points in the decision to name him the player of the tournament.
It was an exceptional performance by Kaka, and arguably the best international tournament for him on a personal level. Certainly winning the World Cup would have meant more, but Kaka wasn't as much of a regular in that squad as he was in this one.
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3. Winning the Champions League in 2007 and all that followed
The 2007 UEFA Champions League triumph was everything that was right about Kaka and his AC Milan outfit. The Brazilian was entering the peak of his career and was blessed to have an exceptional team at Milan that went on to lift the Champions League.
That season, the Italians often looked unstoppable against Europe's elite, and it was due to Kaka's phenomenal technical prowess as to why they ticked. Shevchenko's departure to Chelsea saw the Brazilian become the focal point of the Milan attack, and he seamlessly took to his new role.
While he impressed in the Serie A, his performances on the continental front were at another level altogether. In November, Kaka bagged his first Champions League hat-trick in a 4-1 win against Anderlecht. He then went on to score the all-important goal in their Round of 16 victories, which eliminated Celtic from the competition.
Kaka even scored three goals over two legs against Manchester united in what was billed as an epic semifinal clash between two European superpowers. He eventually ended the competition as the highest goal scorer with 10 goals and deserved all the plaudits that came his way.
Due to his sublime showing in the Champions League, he was named in the FIFPro World XI and in the UEFA Team of the Year. Domestically, he won the Serie A Player of the Year and the Foreign Player of the Year awards.
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2. Winning the FIFA World Cup in 2002
While winning the World Cup should rank higher than any other achievement in world football, it will not go down as that high of an accomplishment individually for Kaka, particularly due to his minimal contribution in leading Brazil to the trophy in Korea and Japan.
Throughout the course of the tournament, Kaka represented the national side for a paltry 25 minutes combined, and was never named in the starting eleven. Still only a fledgeling 20-year-old, Kaka knew he had to work hard to achieve his goal of being a regular for his country.
His World Cup debut came against Costa Rica in a group stage match when he replaced Rivaldo in the 65th minute. He alternated between playing as a number nine and right winger, and looked sharp regardless of where he played. However, it was the last time he was seen on the field in that competition.
If the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo weren't in the squad, it would've been ridiculous to omit Kaka from the first team. However, with a team bolstered by world-class talent in every department, merely making the 23-man squad was an achievement on its own for Kaka.
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1. Being the last player to win the Ballon d'Or since the Messi-Ronaldo era began
In recent years, the prestigious Ballon d'Or trophy which is given to the best player in Europe, has been a two-horse race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact, the La Liga duo have shared the spoils for the award for the last nine seasons. The last player, other than Ronaldo and Messi to win it, was Kaka, when he was named Europe's finest in 2007.
The Ballon d'Or accomplishment came in the aftermath of a fantastic season with Milan. As mentioned earlier, Kaka played a key role in their Champions League triumph by ending up as the tournament's leading goal scorer.
The Brazilian accrued a stellar 444 votes that saw him finish in first place. Ronaldo ended up second with 277 and Messi finished a close third with 255. While Ronaldo and Messi were slowly establishing their world-class credentials in Europe, Kaka had already taken the continent by storm and was considered a footballing icon around the world.
In many ways, the year 2007 was the year of Ricardo Kaka. Not only did he win the Champions League and Ballon d'Or, but he also was voted the 2007 IFFHS World's Best Playmaker and was named by UEFA as both the top forward of the 2006–07 Champions League season and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.
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