Monday, January 19, 2009

Kaka - you belong to Milan

Barnet, of England’s League Two, have a playing field which is notoriously not level. Games at Underhill, where Arsenal’s reserves also play, can make for entertaining goal-fests but the slope means it sometimes ‘just isn’t cricket’, let alone football.

There is also something clearly surreal about the Kaka saga, whose intricacies have dominated soccer talk this week like a high-profile trial. Because money talks, the deal is more likely to happen than not as long as Sheikh Mansour plonks his loose change on the table, drunk on the dream.

The latest news appears to imply Kaka will be staying at the San Siro, after unsuccessful negotiations in Milan, but City will not give up until their self-imposed deadline of the 28th of January passes. They have too much money not to throw around.

It may be hard for us recessive Europeans to grasp, but Arabs really do have money to burn. In my other job, I meet many a sheikh and an oligarch so Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour’s playboy approaches to football do not shock me. As sweet as it is to see Silvio Berlusconi and Roman Abramovich eating humble pie, this transfer is still the wrong move.

In favour of the move are feelings that AC Milan deserve some of their own medicine after plundering other clubs for years and that Manchester City’s defeat-hardened fans deserve a chance of success for once.

But another crazy-money capture only adds to the too-easily dismissed arguments for a salary cap across UEFA.
Kaka himself may have been in tears this weekend, but his paymasters, AC Milan chief Adriano Galliani and de facto boss Silvio Berlusconi, appear to be ushering him out the door with Euro signs in their eyes. There is nothing illegal about Milan selling their ace, but it breaks unwritten laws of football.

The fact City are four points from the drop zone of challenging for Europe makes this Abu Dhabian folly impossible for the true fan to accept. More than Alf Common’s record-smashing four-figure move in 1905, more even than the Russian revolution at Chelsea -“Terremoto (Earthquake) Abramovich”, as La Gazzetta dello Sport called it, Kaka’s move to Manchester has upset the natural order of the Beautiful Game.

Leave aside the fact that the Brazilian’s salary and transfer fee are obscene at a time of depression in England, and televised suffering elsewhere in the world: In purely footballing terms, this is a bad deal. Unlike Chelsea, Champions League qualifiers and one of England’s top teams when Roman Abramovich’s yacht dropped anchor in 2003, Manchester City remain real underachievers.

This is the straw which should break the back of the camel, before it can enter the eye of a needle: Kaka’s move makes no sense for him in football terms. The boy from Brasilia is 26 and at the height of his powers. One of the world’s best players at one of the world’s best teams, he should not be departing the game’s premier club competition (the UEFA Champions League) and lowering his sights to join a team doddering four points above their drop zone, whatever his super-remuneration will be.

Man City need steel in defence and grit in midfield before they need a Kaka. In fact a major reinforcement in all areas is required to challenge for the Champions League and overtake established rivals with a team built from scratch, a target which seems surely out of reach for next season. And there is no guarantee the Arab arrival will bear sudden fruit. A quick transformation from PL strugglers to CL contenders? I doubt it. In England alone there are five other clubs who will have a lot to say about any new kids on the block.

Kaka at City just does not bode well. The Blues from the Eastlands already have three Brazilians who have fallen out at various times with their coach, and the rainy North-West of England is still no cultural breeze for South Americans, however open-minded and adventurous the well-bred Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is. The expectation level will be enormous on one man and unless there five or six other big-money buys, it could all end in more tears.

For the man at the epicenter of this whole shebang, the risk of failure is just too high.
The sporting world is full of examples of the best players leaving the big stage for a fatter pay cheque, particularly in the days when amateur competition existed alongside professional sports.

Pancho Gonzales was the best men’s tennis player for much of the ‘50s and ‘60s but was excluded from the big tournaments because he played for money. Amateur Rugby Union was resigned to losing its best players to professional Rugby League until it turned pro in 1995, while boxing is a clear case of a pure sport tainted, if not ruined, by the green.

Fans and football’s natural order are upset. I should perhaps be glad one of the world’s best players could be on his way to one of the Premier League’s weaker teams instead of to one of the Big Four, but Kaka’s move to Man City almost makes me want to give up following the game I grew up loving.

Rival clubs do not need wage inflation in a time of recession, and supporters do not want to be told the game is only about money, even if it actually is. We would like to think skill, tactics, desire and coaching still have some bearing on soccer success. But the Kaka deal will definitely happen if the money is right. Milan will take the bait, but what about the player?

Saying your favorite book is the Bible and wearing Christian t-shirts for the cameras leaves one inevitably open to scrutiny. So has Kaka read Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:23-24 (or indeed in Mark 10:24-25 or Luke 18:24-25) – "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Money can only be your prime motivation in moving down a peg on the career ladder, so don’t be a hypocrite now, Kaka. You don’t have to move to Manchester City. Don’t be bullied by Berlusconi. Respect the wishes of the fans who made all those banners in your honor at the San Siro this weekend and who have marched in protest because they love you so much.

Stay where you are happy, where your family is settled, where you will have the best chance of trophies and where the sun does not shine only on TV. Think of the respect you will earn in Milan instead of the money you could earn in Manchester. Read Jesus’ words again and don’t fix what ain’t broke. Consider it God’s will and he will look after you. You could regret risking it all at Eastlands but you won’t regret staying at Milan.

Go on, prove to us there is more to soccer, and life in 2009, than just money.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Soccer News

No comments: