Après moi, le déluge. Ricardo Kaka, the enfant prodige of Italian football, seems set to lift his sails and leave. Silvio Berlusconi, Milan’s President, has already stated that ‘it will be very difficult to keep Kaka’ and the hugs that the player distributed to everyone at the end of the Fiorentina game left many with the aftertaste of a farewell. If Kaka does sign his contract to become a pharaoh in Manchester City, what will be the consequences for Italian Serie A? It is worth taking a look at some of them.
The clear winner of the situation – Manchester City aside – is Milan. Fans are of course prone to lugubrious predictions concerning the team without its talisman, but the truth is that Milan walked into 2009 with two serious problems – a need to renovate and rejuvenate their team, their tactics and their system, and a critical financial situation (as affected by the global market) which prevented them from doing so. With this influx of cash, the second problem is wiped out and the first becomes much more realistic to resolve. There will be an end-season of damage limitation (without Kaka, the Scudetto is practically unfeasible and even qualification for the Champions League becomes unstable), but once it is past, Milan will become ever so much more powerful for the sale. Kaka is an incredibly talented footballer, but 110 million euros allows for the purchase of no less than five world-class players. We are talking about Milan coming into the next season with the potential added assets of goalkeeper Sebastien Frey, central defender Philippe Mexes, midfielder Marek Hamsik and strikers Diego Milito and Giuseppe Rossi. Add these to the already incoming Thiago Silva and Joann Gourcuff, and the loss of Kaka is more than compensated for.
In addition, the player’s departure is bound to force the team into the tactical renovation they so direly need. Admittedly the better player to give away for this to happen would have been Andrea Pirlo, since most of Milan’s game turns (and, for years, has turned) around him, but Kaka is the second most tactically influential man in the team. Granted, it is still possible that Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti decides to stick with his old system anyway, merely recycling one between Ronaldinho and Clarence Seedorf in Kaka’s old role, or that the man fails to develop an effective new formation. Likewise, the injection of cash is not an absolute guarantee that Milan will take the opportunity it has been given – the Rossoneri management has proved capable of misjudgements in the past and the names already being whispered as potential acquisitions are a bit doubtful (none of them are Italian, either, which is a shame). Still, the opportunity for utter renewal and a clean start is there – it is only Milan’s to lose it.
The bad news is that while the sale is greatly beneficial for Milan, it is catastrophic for the rest of Serie A. For one thing, it is a terrific knock in terms of prestige – Kaka was the response that Serie A could boast to the Premier League’s Cristiano Ronaldo and La Liga’s Lionel Messi, a player of incredible youth and appeal. There are others in Serie A who, on a strictly technical level, are ultimately as valuable as he is – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero. But Ibrahimovic is a proven international underperformer, while the other two are on the wrong side of thirty. Kaka has a freshness to him that these other players do not possess. He is also the only one with a Ballon D’Or.
Along with the international prestige, there dwindles a part of the pleasure in seeing Serie A. Milan has other champions to boast, but the curtains are closed on that very special spectacle that was Kaka on a run. Kaka was a Van Gogh of the football fields, a man who left his signature on the game. Admittedly this is the last of anyone’s problems, among other things because the man’s form was somewhat waning and Alexandre Pato seems set to become an artist himself, but it would be an injustice to football not to mention it. Even rival supporters will miss the Brazilian.
A far more serious problem is the effect that Milan’s new economic status will have on the rest of Serie A as a whole. Take another look at the names we have mentioned as potential reinforcements – Frey, Mexes, Hamsik, Milito, Rossi. Except for Rossi, who plays for Villareal, the others are holding pillars to Fiorentina, Roma, Napoli and Genoa. Then there are Antonio Cassano, Alberto Aquilani, Riccardo Montolivo, Domenico Criscito, Luca Cigarini, Fabiano Santacroce, Angelo Palombo. One or two of these players may say no, but should the Rossoneri decide that they want them, the rest are unlikely to resist the allure. The prospective rebirth of Milan will come at the expense of a general weakening of Serie A across the board. This is by far the bleakest among the possible outcomes of Kaka’s sale since the current appeal of Serie A is its remarkable balance, which sees eight or nine teams realistically competing for the top four spots. Of course, the alternative is that Milan only buys from the foreign market, becoming a cruise-liner of foreigners like Inter and stifling the growth of their own Italian youth (case in point – where is Marco Borriello?). Either way, in the new balance of power to be inaugurated after the sale of Kaka, there is not a single prospective scenario which seems beneficial to Italian football. The Milan fans are the only ones who should not be protesting.