By Rupert Fryer | South American Football Expert
Kaka returned to the Brazil side for the match against Iraq last week in what was his first international appearance since World Cup 2010. The former Fifa World Player of the Year set up his side’s second goal, and scored their third before being withdrawn with 20 minutes remaining. It could not have gone much better.
“I never lost the hope of coming back and experiencing what I am now,” he said. “This is a personal resurgence that I have achieved gradually through a lot of hard work.”
The resurgence, ostensibly triggered by a hat-trick for Real Madrid in a friendly against Millonarios, was lauded as something of a turning point for the 30-year-old. But as Brazil strolled to a 6-0 victory over an opposition that was so poor the game resembled a training session for much of the evening, you wondered if they really needed him. Moreover, many are still left wondering whether his presence offers Mano Menezes anything at all going into World Cup 2014.
Rather than the dawn of a second-coming, Kaka’s return served only to remind us that Brazil should consign the Madrid man to the past for good. Profile alone is not enough to warrant an international reprieve.
At his peak, Kaka was a force of nature, perhaps the finest counterattacking player we have seen. What set him apart from the rest was not his unerring ability to pick a pass, his coolness in front of goal, or his capacity in one-on-one situations. It was speed. It was that he could do everything he did at such blistering pace. He ran with the ball as quickly as most could without; he dropped into pockets, turned and played inch-perfect through-balls before his marker was even aware he had gained possession.
They were attributes that were used to great effect by Dunga, as Kaka formed the fulcrum of a reactive approach that brought so much to success for the Selecao prior to South Africa 2010. Compact, strong and athletic, the old Brazil would soak up pressure before Kaka would spark the explosive counter-attacks that led them to a first-place finish in Conmebol World Cup Qualifying, as well as Copa America and Confederations Cup titles.
Not only have injury and aging legs cost Kaka that pace, but he is emblematic of the old; Menezes is the man tasked with leading Brazil into the new. The former Gremio and Corinthians coach has repeatedly spoken of his desire to produce a more contemporary side, one that dominates the play and presses high up the pitch to recycle possession.
Menezes’ desire is to continue developing his 4-2-3-1, a formation in which it appears difficult to shoehorn Kaka. His natural position would be as a traditional number 10, but that role has been taken. “Oscar is the No.10 for this Brazilian team,” says his coach. The Chelsea man’s introduction to the international setup proved the catalyst to the modern approach they’ve been striving for, and he was the true star in the drubbing of Iraq. “He has all the right attributes,” adds Menezes. “Oscar is smart and his style suits how we played today. He is a very important player.”
Kaka has been asked by Jose Mourinho to operate from wide at times, but with Neymar unmovable on the left of the three, a position wide right appears to be the only real possibility. But that will depend on how well Hulk can adapt to his new environment at Zenit, and on the outcome of Lucas Moura’s imminent arrival in Paris.
One wonders not only whether Kaka is capable of fitting into such a system, but whether he will be anywhere near being able to do so when the World Cup comes around, at which time he will be 32. Most pertinent, however, is the wider significance of Kaka’s recall. It appears a backwards glance at a time when it is imperative that Brazil look forward.
“[Kaka’s] a legend,” gushed Neymar when asked about the recall. “He’s a role model for this generation of players.” With just under two years to go, it’s time for the current crop to step up as legends. To inspire a new generation.
Come 2014 Brazil will have to exercise not only the demons of London 2012 and of Dunga, but, much more importantly, those of 1950, when the big show last came to town. The pressure will likely be crippling. And so time has come to dismiss the past and look ahead. Kaka’s time has been and gone.