Ricardo Kaka – Filling the Gap

The prodigal son finally returns. Kaká’s arrival was confirmed in the morning of September 2nd, his transfer finally successful after attempts in each of the previous three transfer windows. This transfer has been praised and panned alike, and although it’s impossible to say how Kaká’s return leg will go at Milan, it is fairly certain that the two extreme points of view are inevitably wrong.

Kaká certainly won’t be the piece to make this squad jump in quality. There are too many other holes in the squad for a 31 year old former player of the year to paper-over. Similarly, he’s also far from a signing designed to, “put lipstick on a pig” as suggested by David Amoyal (well-worth the follow). Kaká is a direct replacement for Kevin-Prince Boateng, who finally had enough of his tenure in Milan and who issues a come-and-get-me-plea weeks ago with his “The BundesLiga is indisputably the best league in the world..” comments. So with that in mind, Kaká’s success and or failure needs to be judged in contrast to Boateng’s production, which of the last two years has been erratic at best: 12 goals and 9 assists in 57 appearances.

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The issue with Boateng is that he was always a bit of a fish out of water when it came to playing behind the strikers; his placement in that role should have been a specialty tactical innovation as opposed to a regular assignment. That being said, the failings of the system were as much that the system is an outdated formation as it was that Massimilliano Allegri didn’t have the personnel to complete it. Where the fault lies with Allegri is in his adherence anyway to the system, even when he was forced to innovate, his primary change was to shift Boateng out to the right wing.

Kaká doesn’t have the stamina to play on the right wing. Furthermore, he’s not going to contribute defensively like Allegri has asked of his man behind the strikers. But rather than go into what Kaká can’t do – I’d like to discuss what his arrival can do, and that’s fill the massive gap between midfield and attack.

Allegri has been looking for solutions to this space for over two years now, and has come up with a variety of solutions, excuses, and innovations. He attempted to play a false-9, having Boateng function in the middle of the park behind two wingers. This didn’t work, but it did have some potential, most of which was because Boateng can’t bang in the goals like his technique should allow. A second solution came in the form of Giampolo Pazzini’s role in the first half of the 12/13 season, where Allegri just embraced the gap and spread the wingers all the way wide, giving Pazzini space to operate in. While not a particularly insightful innovation, in fact one can argue this move is the opposite of innovation, it’s inactivity and an embracing of the fault, this move was elevated with the arrival of Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli is a complete forward in the mold of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the space afforded to him has allowed Balotelli to become the hub of the side, a role Zlatan took over with aplomb, and delivered for two consecutive seasons, putting up an unreal 35 goals and 10 assists in all competitions in 11/12. The issue that came with this is Zlatana-dependence where Zlatan tires out after being used for 90 minutes each and every match while having to cover two positions at once (#10 + #9). While Balotelli has found success with the freedom he’s granted in Allegri’s system, Max has recently come under the impression that this space is no longer acceptable – probably suggested by Adriano Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi.

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So this brings us back to Kaká. Ricky, despite his deterioration of pace, still possesses many qualities that the traditional trequartista requires: vision, range of passing, guile.. etc. While the blistering pace may be gone, and this is lamentable, Kaká has the class to adjust his game accordingly to compensate. Under Ancelotti, Kaká spent most of his time flicking balls forward from deep in midfield, or dribbling the ball against a back line looking for a final-ball to deliver to his strikers.

But more than on-field impact, Kaká is brought in to be a leader in the locker room, and when viewing this transfer from a sporting perspective, this is the most important point to be made.


However, if you view this commercially, there is a direct and obvious reason for Kaká’s arrival: commercial revenue. As discussed by James Horncastle: “When he left, season ticket sales at San Siro collapsed from 41,606 to 25,984, a fall of 37.5%, greater than even after Calciopoli and when Shevchenko departed.” Kaká brings fans to San Siro, at a time when stadium attendances are finally beginning to rise after hitting a valley. Gli orfani di Kaká (Kaká’s orphans – as the thousands that didn’t purchase tickets after his departure are called) would represent a significant boost in revenue, should they come back in force to San Siro. Estimates put around €25million lost in ticket sales over the four years Kaká was gone. But to only look at this transfer in financial terms misses the most important part of the deal, to prepare a new generation of Rossoneri for the rigors of Europe and the demands of stardom.

Kaká’s return is intended to bring back nostalgia as much as it is to remind fans what Milan is capable of. Milan’s influence in the Champions League has waned since 2007, Milan not having made it past the quarterfinals since then. From the 2007 Champions League winning squad, not a single member of the starting lineup or bench are at Milan, with the exception of the primavera manager, Filippo Inzaghi. Kaká was not only a protagonist in that match, he’s an emotional leader in a locker room devoid of leadership. With all due respect to Riccardo Montolivo; he’s won nothing of substance. Kaká has won accolades at the highest club, country, and personal level. He did all these while the lynchpin of a Milan side that soared to continental heights.

Kaká joins a side with players who grew up idolizing him: Saponara, De Sciglio, Poli, and El Shaarawy have all come out with their affections to Ricky, either basing their game or hoping to learn from one of the Milan greats. Kaká’s two year deal is to elevate these talents from young starlets into players capable of handling the pressure. That’s going to be the lasting mark of Kaká, regardless of how he does on the field. His most important task is to transmit his intangibles to a new generation of Rossoneri superstars. More than forming a link between the midfield and attack, the arrival of Kaká bridges the gap between 2007 and the future.


Boateng stats image provided by ESPNFC.com


Follow me on Twitter: @PDAcquaviva


About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

9 Thoughts on “Ricardo Kaka – Filling the Gap

  1. Solid write-up Pete. It goes without saying this club would have
    benefited far greater from the likes of an Isco to plug that “gap” in
    the mid, but given Milan’s clear financial constraints and in light of
    the fact that Kaka was gotten for free, this signing should certainly
    prove an upgrade over the same team last week.

  2. Fantastic insights. Absolutely agree he’ll be essential to the dressing room, as well as filling the stadium and selling jerseys. Agree about his capabilities on the pitch, too. Hope his health and his manager allow him to fulfill this role as well. 😉

  3. p3trarch on September 3, 2013 at 8:57 PM said:

    Awesome article!

  4. Mohamad Faez Tarabichi on September 3, 2013 at 11:11 PM said:

    Ahh absolutely love it! So true his influence is gonna be in the dressing room. Hope it’ll work out well!

  5. Derwuin Alexander on September 3, 2013 at 11:22 PM said:

    Good artical love it

  6. Miguel Sensacion on September 3, 2013 at 11:46 PM said:

    First off: “Putting lipstick on a pig” … That really burned me up for a bit there,Listening to that podcast i was a bit shocked at first, believing he(David Amoyal) would be unbiased & with the whole Matri deal & such, it just felt like rubbing salt in a wound.

    But back to your piece. I would like to thank you for putting this together with substance and facts. Loved the article & it’s positive spin on the KaKa deal. I honestly can say my tune has changed a bit on it & you’ve helped that. A major point you made: “Kaká joins a side with players who grew up idolizing… either basing their game or hoping to learn from one of the Milan greats ” He can definitely help and be a bridge between Allegri & the youth who clearly is having a rough time with them.
    B&G probably thought the same and decided “Why Not” especially on a free. To make this short

    Your article in my opinion is spot on !

    Thanks for the good work.

  7. Mohammad on September 4, 2013 at 1:55 AM said:

    Great insight, thanks for sharing these thoughts!!

  8. fantastic article,thanks Pete & to all of u (Elaine,Meytaar Zeevi,TheMilanguy…) really luv readin ur articles they make my day & ur efforts r appreciated by many milanisti around the world..thanks again..keep em comin!

  9. januar farlan on September 4, 2013 at 11:35 AM said:

    What do you think about his defensive contribution in this Milan? Cause we all know that Allegri like his player to press high up the pitch and press within our own area…and since Kaka has lost his blistering pace…I don’t think his gonna spearheading our counter attack.

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