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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Goodbye Kaka?

The obvious question raised by Brazil's stunning performance against the USA on August 10 concerns the place of Kaka in the national team. Kaka plays the attacking, creative midfielder role recently taken up by the 20 year old, Paulo Henrique Ganso. Ganso has a long way to go to earn a permanent place in the 10 number shirt at the center of the Brazilian midfield, but on the other hand, Kaka has never really found his footing in Brazil's gold and blue. For Brazil, his principal claim to fame was orchestrating their comeback against the USA from a 2-0 deficit in South Africa 2009 at the Confederations Cup and earning the Golden Ball Award for the tournament's best player. And then there's the extraordinary statistic that, with the exception of the July 2, 2010 match against the Netherlands, Brazil have never lost when he and Robinho have played together for the national team.

To be fair, Kaka has displayed occasional moments of brilliance for Brazil. In 2005, he scored one of his trademark, curling strikes on goal from outside the box in Brazil's 4-1 Confederations Cup final match victory against Argentina. A year later, once again against Argentina, Kaka picked up the ball in his own half, and outran Lionel Messi for the rest of the pitch to score Brazil's third goal. But at the World Cup, Kaka has not failed to disappoint fans either in 2006 or 2010. For sure, he scored against a left footed rocket into the top corner of the net against Croatia in their opening game. And he set up Ronaldo for his 15th World Cup goal against Ghana with a magnificent through ball that allowed the Brazilian striker to break the offside trap, side-step the keeper and tuck the ball into the back of the net. But in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Kaka failed to take control of the Brazilian midfield in the vein of Alessandro Rivaldo's work in 1998 and 2002 or, Socrates in 1982 and 1986.

Kaka's 2010 World Cup performance may have much to do with groin and knee injuries sustained most fully in the 2009-2010 season at Real Madrid. Dr. Marc Martens, the physician who performed his August 5 arthroscropic knee surgery, claimed Kaka could have jeopardized his career by playing in the 2010 World Cup, Kaka has denied his doctor's claims, stating that he exaggerated the gravity of his injuries. Regardless, Kaka has pledged to regain his form as the best player in the world. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper Marca, he commented: "I will be the best in the world again. Today it's difficult to say this, but I think I'm going to be successful with Real Madrid," he said. "I had the operation to be No. 1 again."

One thing we know, for sure, about Kaka is that he is fighter. In 2000, at the age of 18, he suffered a spinal injury as a result of faulty jump off a diving board into a swimming pool. Faced with the possibility of paralysis in both his legs, he made a miraculous recovery within a year and established himself as a young sensation for Sao Paolo in the ensuing two years before moving to Milan and ultimately winning the Balloon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year Awards in 2007.

Can Kaka regain his place at the heart of the Brazilian midfield? Does Mano envision a future for him alongside Ganso, with perhaps only one defensive midfielder instead of two? Will Ganso demonstrate the ability to compete at the international level? Only time will tell. For now, though, all football fans should pray for Kaka's recovery and take heart from the related story of Ronaldo's inspirational return from career threatening knee injuries, only to subsequently lead the Brazilian football team to victory at the 2002 World Cup by scoring 8 goals.

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