With Cristiano at the helm, scoring almost at-will, Real Madrid took titles in both La Liga and the Champions League. Then last week, while watching the FIFA Confederations Cup, I watched as Portugal’s biggest star scored on a beautiful header against host nation Russia.
Scoring goals has almost become a given at this point in his career. And though Portugal lost to Chile on penalties in the semi-finals, Ronaldo has almost cemented his case for winning the 2017 Ballon d’Or, the award given to the world’s best player. If in fact he does win, it will be Ronaldo’s fifth golden ball, tying him with Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
That got my mind spinning.
It might take you some time to come up with the answer, as CR7 and Messi the Magician have monopolized the award for the past decade.
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is the correct answer, more commonly known as Kaká. The Brazilian midfielder won the prestigious award in 2007 while playing for Italian giants AC Milan. In a world where the constant debate is “Ronaldo or Messi,” Ricardo Kaká was arguably a combination of the two, and at the zenith of his career, was one of the most feared players in the world.
Kaká began his professional career at the age of 15 with São Paulo FC. In 2003, he joined Milan for a fee of approximately $10 million. It was at Milan that he quickly became a terror in the Serie A. With the Rossoneri, Kaká reached the Champions League Final in 2005 and 2007, both against Liverpool. In the 2005 final, Milan already led 2-nil when Ricky played one of the most ridiculous defense-splitting through-balls you will ever see to the feet of Hernan Crespo, who scored to make it 3-nil before halftime.
All would not end well for Kaká and Milan, however, as Liverpool mounted the biggest comeback in Champions League Final history, ultimately winning by penalty kicks.
In the 2007 final, Ricardo played provider for Filippo Inzaghi’s second goal of the match, which proved to be the winner (Dirk Kuyt scored late for Liverpool) as Milan made amends for their mishap 2 years prior. Kaká would be sold to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for approximately $80 million. At the time, the transfer was the second most expensive of all-time behind Zinedine Zidane’s $87 million move from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001.
Kaká’s 5-year spell with Los Blancos wasn’t filled with as much success as his first stint with AC Milan, as he suffered injuries which limited his playing time. In the 85 times he did feature, Ricky scored 23 goals for the Spanish giants.
In total, Kaká scored 77 goals in his 223 appearances for Milan, which included his return to the squad for one last season in 2013. Oh, and let’s discreetly throw in his stint on Brazil’s winning World Cup campaign in 2002. And despite their shiny 4 and 5 Ballon d’Or awards respectively, neither Ronaldo nor Messi has won a World Cup. (Though to his credit, Ronaldo did win the European Championships last summer.)
Off the pitch, Kaká is a great humanitarian as well. Since 2004, he has served as an Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations’ World Food Program. This organization helps aid approximately 80 million people from 80 different countries, and is this leading hunger fighting humanitarian service in the world. Kaká also co-launched the “WeFeedback” campaign in 2011, which helped provided healthy meals for over 400,000 children. He then spoke at the United Nations Rome-based agencies side event in 2015, promoting and advocating Zero Hunger.
Kaká now spends his days footballing with Orlando City FC, an expansion team in Major League Soccer after a loan spell with hometown club São Paulo. And while the glory days are surely behind him, and with Cristiano Ronaldo likely to win the Ballon D’or this year, Ricardo Kaká’s time as best in the world should not be forgotten. His footballing genius was amazing to watch. Here’s to you, Ricky! World-class player and even better human being.