With his boyish face, Kaka does not look like the average battle-hardened veteran. Having turned 32 and called into Brazil's camp for *A Seleção's *upcoming friendlies against Argentina and Japan, however, there is not much the former Milan and Real Madrid star does not know about the game.
Finding time for an exclusive chat with *FIFA.com *before a training session at Sao Paulo, the club where he started out and where he has now returned, the Brazilian idol gave his enlightening views on a wide range of topics.
FIFA.com: Sao Paulo coach Muricy Ramalho has spoken a lot about the positive effect you’ve had on the team, about the fact that you run and work as hard as anyone else even though you’re a star player. Has there ever been anyone who’s played that same kind of role in your career and been important to you?Kaka: I've worked with some great players, and when you’re at a big club there are several leaders in the team, not just the captain. One player I’d like to mention is (Gennaro)* *Gattuso. He was one guy who would run hard and give his all in every game, no matter whether it was a big match or a friendly. I’d see Gattuso running and I’d think to myself: “Gosh, look at how much work this guy’s doing. I’ve got to help out.” It’s an active kind of leadership that has a positive impact on the team.
Many people looked at you as a youngster for a long time in your career. Do you find it strange to be taking on the role of a veteran now?It’s a new phase in my career and my professional life. I think I first started taking it on in my first international after the 2010 World Cup. There were a whole new generation of players there and some of them said to me: ‘I was in the youth team at Sao Paulo and you were my hero.’ That’s when it really dawned on me that times were changing, in a positive way though. It was like I was looking at myself back in the day, sitting there and looking at the people around me and admiring them. That’s what I see today. Sometimes we’re having a team talk and I see people looking at me and taking notice of what I’m saying. These are really good times for me.
Let’s turn to Brazil now. There’s a big debate going on about how to turn things around after that infamous 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany.I think the improvements that can be made in the national team and in Brazilian football in general are two different things. Most of the players who play in A Seleção are based abroad and the coach has a different job to do. We’ve got the potential to be one of the best in the world. Brazilian football is very competitive, but what’s lacking is a little bit of organisation, planning and the implementing of that planning, and not just in terms of results but the long-term benefits too. It might be the case that we don’t get the results people expect over the next couple of years but in the long term it pays off. And that’s where Germany are a model for us to follow because they’ve been planning since 2006, when they hosted the World Cup, and they reaped the rewards in 2014. It didn’t happen just like that. They made plans, put them into practice and got the rewards.
You were around when A Seleção came under criticism after the 2006 World Cup and you were one of the few to return and play at South Africa 2010 under Dunga. Is he the right man to oversee this latest process of renewal?Dunga is a coach who can get players to buy into what he’s doing. I worked with him for four years and it wasn’t easy to start with because I’d been there in 2006. I started on the bench and I had to fight for my place in the team. He always manages to get the message about commitment across. Even with the fans he’s come in and done a rescue job and got them a little bit more involved again. Once again, I think Dunga could be the guy that rescues the situation and gets people committed. Maybe ‘rescue’ is the wrong word, because the commitment was there in 2014. It was a combination of things. Whatever the case may be, he’s definitely someone who can help A Seleção a lot.
You’ve never said that the national team was no longer part of your plans. How does it fit into your life today?I see A Seleção Brasileira as a reward for what I do with my club. My aim here is to play regularly and to play well, and if the technical staff think that I’m the kind of player they’re looking for, then I’ll be very happy to come in and do a job. And if they think that I don’t fit in any more, then my objective will just be the same: to keep playing and to perform at a high level here in Sao Paulo.
When you were at Real Madrid did you ever think you would return one day to the two clubs closest to your heart: Milan and Sao Paulo?Things happened pretty quickly. My idea to begin with was to see out my six-year contract at Real Madrid, but the situation changed and there came a time when I decided to return to Milan to try and get some regular first-team football. I thought to myself: ‘I need to play regularly and get back in form to have any chance of making the World Cup in 2014.’ It was my choice. I went back, started playing and though the Brazil call-up didn’t come, I was very happy with the decision I made because I got back in form again.
Your next move will be to Orlando City. How much did the desire to experience something new in another country come into your decision?That all came into it. It’s not just a question of me wanting to go and play in a league that’s expanding, though the professional side of things obviously played a part. It was the whole idea of it: moving to a country I’ve never lived in before and getting to know a whole new culture. That all helped me make the decision to go there. I’m really enjoying my time in Sao Paulo right now and it’s been really great to come back. And when the time comes I’ll start thinking about this new phase in my life and career.
Have you thought about what you’ll do when your playing days are over? Will you stay in football?I don’t have anything planned. I’ve got a contract with Sao Paulo until December and then I’ve got three more years in the USA. That’s as far ahead as I’m planning. After that, it’s all going to depend on my fitness and motivation, on whether I want to play or do something else.
Do you have any idea what that might be?If they told me right now to stop playing, I wouldn’t feel like doing anything on the pitch, like being a coach or an assistant coach. I’d rather have more of an administrative role, like a director of football, something like that. All the same, I don’t know what choices I’m going to be making three or four years from now.
Is there anyone you’ve worked with who’s done that job well and inspired you to do it?Leo (Leonardo Araujo, Milan’s director of football between 2008 and 2009) did it really well. I’ve got a good relationship with him and I speak to him a lot. Another guy who really made me think about it is (Zinedine) Zidane. When he came into Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching team I asked him: ‘But why are you coming back now?’. And he said: ‘Because I really feel the need to be on the pitch, which I didn’t have when I stopped playing. I felt the need for other things, like being with my family and my children. I was a club ambassador and I was doing the odd thing here and there, but I didn’t have this urge to be out on the pitch. And then I started to feel it. I began studying, an opening came up with Ancelotti and I decided to come back.’ So that’s how it is really. I don’t know what will be going through my head in four years’ time; if I’ll be missing the pitch or if I’ll never want to see it again. It’s just a question of letting things happen.