Kaka, a complete player

In a year where there was no real big footballing event, Kaka was the highlight. He has huge natural talent, can do almost anything with the ball and is two-footed. But it is his speed which really makes him stand out.

It’s nice to be proved wrong sometimes. In November, I wrote that Boca Juniors were favourites to win the club World Cup. At least I picked AC Milan to reach the final.

Actually that was not as easy as it seemed. In the Italian Serie A, AC Milan are looking distinctly shaky. I don’t know where the Italians have inherited this mentality from, why they are always strong at the key moment, as they were in beating Boca Juniors 4-2.

I also bow in admiration this year to Kaka, who has deservedly won the European and World Footballer of the Year titles.

It wasn’t just the two goals he set up or the goal he scored himself; it was more the solo runs which ran the Argentinians ragged in the final in Japan against Buenos Aires side Boca.

Kaka is no Pele; he is not a Maradona. Kaka is Kaka, his unique self. He does not play the brilliant game of a Pele or Maradona, but he is perhaps the most complete player to have been born.

Of course, he has huge natural talent, can do almost anything with the ball and is two-footed. But it is his speed which really makes him stand out.

As soon as he nears the goal he appears to be lifted, but he is not the sort of player who gets carried away by ego. There are enough of those sort of players around. No, the lad from Sao Paulo has a great character. He is no show-off on the ball but looks to pass to a team-mate in a better position.

In a year where there was no real big footballing event, Kaka was the highlight. What amazes me most of all is that he is not worn out by the many games he has had to play but at 25 he has easily surmounted the stresses and strains. Not only that, he has helped playmaker Andrea Pirlo back to best form after he had looked off colour for weeks.

Without wishing to take anything away from Kaka, I am also full of admiration for Paolo Maldini. After an injury break he was back to top fitness for the final. A few weeks ago he looked, at the age of 39, to be struggling to keep up with the pace of the game in Seria A.

Now I would like Maldini to keep going until 40. He doesn’t have to retire as he has already indicated he would. Everyone should play as long as they can, for the playing days are the best of all. He can always postpone modelling designer clothes, or do it on the side like Kaka.

That’s another thing about Kaka. If this good-looking young man had not become a footballer he could have earned good money advertising for Armani. As AC Milan are about to offer Kaka a two-year extension of his contract beyond 2011 it looks like he will always be at Milan. President Sivlio Berlusconi wants to show the world that no one — not Real Madrid, not Chelsea — will be able to take this fabulous player from AC Milan.

Italy are not only World champions. The scandal-shaken Serie A can again claim to have the big attraction.

The other two candidates for Europe and World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have been put slightly in the shade. Yet these two have no need to fear comparison with anyone. They are both world-class players. Messi of Barcelona is often compared with Maradona, because of his perfection on the ball and the way he snakes past defences. He is only 20. If Kaka does not continue playing like Maldini to the age of 40, Messi will probably be voted World Footballer of the Year at some point.

It’s easy to forget that Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United is only 25. For a while I thought his development had stalled somewhat. It looked as if he was doing too much bodybuilding work. In England you need plenty of shoulder muscle to impose yourself against defenders. But Ronaldo has lost none of his speed. He plays spontaneously and is always good for a surprise on the ball.

When it comes to outstanding coaches, there are quite a few. But I really admire what Arsene Wenger always manages to produce at Arsenal. I had often tried to lure him to Bayern Munich, especially when he was still coach of Monaco. But now he seems to be married to the London club.

He has managed with young players like Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Alexander Hleb, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie to create and direct modern football of the highest order.

It’s no accident that Arsenal are top of the English Premier League, even if they are being closely pursued by Manchester United. Chelsea, I believe, will have no chance this season.

The year has shown, with the European Championships qualifiers, that the strong nations have remained strong. Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, to name a few, have all qualified for Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

Only England failed, and that was really no surprise to me. When Germany easily beat England 2-1 at Wembley early in the season, the English team appeared strangely lifeless. A player like David Beckham will of course find it difficult in Hollywood, in the U.S. League for Los Angeles Galaxy, to keep up his form.

I am looking forward to 2008. And I wish you all a year of exciting football matches. In South America, they are already into the World Cup qualification games. And, of course, the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland will be coming up.

Not always will you get the standards set by Kaka and company, but everyone should try to emulate these footballers.

©SKK 2007, distributed by GMS/ASIA FEATURES