Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (IPA: [xi’kaʁdu i’zɛksõ du’sɐ̃tus ‘leitʃi]; born April 22, 1982 in Brasília), better known as Kaká, is a Brazilian midfielder who plays for Italian Serie A club A.C. Milan and the Brazilian national team. He was the recipient of both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2007, and was named in the 2008 Time 100
Kaká was born to Simone Cristina dos Santos Leite and Bosco Izecson Pereira Leite. He has a younger brother, Rodrigo (known as Digão), who has followed in his footsteps by playing football for Milan. When he was seven, his family moved to São Paulo. His school had arranged him in a local youth club called “Alphaville,” who qualified to the final in a local tournament. There he was discovered by São Paulo FC who offered an assignment.
At the age of 18, Kaká suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church.
Kaká began his club career with São Paulo at the age of eight. He signed a contract at 15 and led the SPFC youth squad to Copa de Juvenil glory. Kaká made his senior side debut in January 2001 and scored 12 goals in 27 appearances, in addition to leading São Paulo to its first and only Torneio Rio-São Paulo championship. He scored 10 in 22 matches the following season, and by this time his performance was soon attracting attention from European clubs. Kaká made totally 146 appearances for São Paulo scoring 58 times.
AC Milan, fresh from winning the 2003 Champions League, brought him aboard in 2003 for $8.5 million, a fee described in hindsight as “peanuts” by club owner Silvio Berlusconi. Within a month, he cracked the starting lineup, and has remained there since. His Serie A debut was in a 2–0 Milan win at A.C. Ancona. He scored 10 goals in 30 appearances that season, as Milan won the Scudetto and the European Super Cup. Kaká was a part of the five-man midfield in the 2004–05 season, usually playing in a withdrawn role behind striker Andriy Shevchenko. He scored 7 goals in 36 domestic appearances as Milan finished runner-up to Juventus. Despite Milan losing the 2004–05 Champions League final to Liverpool F.C. on penalties, he was nonetheless voted the best midfielder of the tournament, and also finished ninth, with 19 votes, in the running for the 2005 Ballon D’Or.
The 2005–06 season saw Kaká score his first hat-tricks in domestic and European competition. On April 9, 2006, he scored his first Rossoneri hat-trick against Chievo Verona. All three goals were scored in the second half. Seven months later, he scored his first Champions League hat-trick in a 4–1 group stage win over RSC Anderlecht. The football world was beginning to take notice of a superstar in the making. Following Rui Costa’s departure to Benfica at the end of the season, and despite the insistence of many Milan fans, Kaká turned down the chance to switch from his number 22 to the now-vacant number 10, a number typically associated with world-class playmakers. (The number was eventually claimed by teammate Clarence Seedorf.)
Shevchenko’s departure to Chelsea FC for the 2006–07 season allowed Kaká to become the focal point of Milan’s offense as he alternated between the midfield and striker positions. He finished as the top scorer in the 2006–07 CL campaign with ten goals, which proved a catalyst in steering Milan back to European success. One of them helped the Rossoneri beat Celtic FC 1–0 after extra time in the quarterfinals on a 1–0 aggregate, and three others proved fatal for Manchester United in the semifinals despite Milan losing the first leg. Following the convincing 3–0 second-leg defeat at the San Siro on May 2 that knocked out the English champions, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson declared that Kaká was one of the two best players in the world, alongside his charge Cristiano Ronaldo. The previous month, a panel of experts set up by Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport proclaimed Kaká as the world’s best footballer. Shevchenko also included his endorsement, while suggesting that Kaká deserved to win the Ballon D’Or.
Kaká added the Champions League title to his trophy case for the first time when Milan defeated Liverpool F.C. 2–1 in Athens on May 23, 2007. Though he went scoreless, he won a free kick that led to the first of Filippo Inzaghi’s two goals, and provided the assist for the second. For his stellar play throughout the competition, he was voted the Vodafone Fans’ Player of the Season in a poll of over 100,000 UEFA.com visitors. In June 2007, German football publication Kicker named him the world’s best player, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho finishing second and third, respectively, while he was also given this honor by UK publication The Times. On August 30, 2007, Kaká was named by UEFA as both the top forward of the 2006–07 CL season and Club Footballer of the Year.
He played his 200th career match with Milan in a 1–1 home draw with Calcio Catania on September 30, 2007, and on October 5, he was named the 2006–07 FIFPro World Player of the Year.
On December 2, 2007, Kaká was officially announced as the European Footballer of the Year, becoming the eighth Milan player in history to receive the honor. He finished with a decisive 444 votes, far ahead of runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo. Upon accepting the award in Paris, he said, “It was an exceptional year and the Ballon D’or crowns an extraordinary 2007…I want to thank God who allowed me to be here today. I thank my wife, my parents and Milan, the team that allowed me to win. I also thank my teammates, both at Milan and Brazil, and all of the fans.” On 29 February, 2008, Kaká agreed to an extension with Milan which will keep him with the Italian club through 2013.
Due to his contributions on and off the pitch, Time magazine named Kaká in the Time 100, a list of the world’s 100 most influential people, on 2 May 2008.
Kaká made his debut for Brazil in January 2002 against Bolivia. He was part of the 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning squad, but played only 25 minutes, all of which were in the first round match against Costa Rica. During the final against Germany, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was reportedly about to send Kaká on as a substitute, but he never made it into the game as the referee did not notice him waving on the sidelines to enter the pitch.
In 2003, Kaká was the captain for the Gold Cup tournament, where Brazil finished as runner-up, as did Kaká with a second-best three goals. He was also named as one of the competition’s top eleven players by position. On June 29, 2005, he scored in a 4–1 defeat of Argentina in the 2005 Confederations Cup final, with a powerful shot into the upper right-hand corner of the net. He finished in joint tenth place in the voting for the 2004 FIFA World Player of the Year award, and finished two spots higher the following year.
Kaká started in his first FIFA World Cup Finals in 2006, scoring his first and only goal in a 1–0 victory over Croatia in Brazil’s opening match. He was also named Man of the match. He was unable to keep up the momentum for the remainder of the tournament, as Brazil was eliminated by France in the quarterfinals. On September 3, 2006, he scored again for Brazil, receiving the ball off a deflection from an Argentina corner kick and taking the ball down three quarters of the field to score.
On May 12, 2007, citing an exhaustive schedule of Serie A, Champions League and national team play, Kaká openly bowed out of the 2007 Copa América, which Brazil eventually won. “I haven’t had a break for three seasons. I won’t have the form to achieve what is expected of me at an international level.” Brazil coach Dunga took the optimistic route, declaring that while he was disappointed about Kaká’s decision, his absence would subsequently free up a roster spot for a less frequently used player. Kaká, however, did play 70 minutes of Brazil’s 1–1 friendly draw with England on June 1, but only 30 in a goalless draw with Turkey on June 5.
Personal life and religion
A devout evangelical Christian, Kaká became engrossed in religion at the age of 12: “I learnt that it is faith that decides whether something will happen or not.” He removed his jersey to reveal an “I Belong to Jesus” T-shirt and openly engaged in prayer moments after the final whistle of Milan’s 2007 Champions League triumph. Kaká previously sported the same shirt during Milan’s 2004 Scudetto celebration and after Brazil’s defeat of Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, and had the same phrase, along with “God Is Faithful,” stitched onto the tongues of his boots. During the postmatch celebration following Brazil’s 4–1 win over Argentina in the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup final, he and several of his teammates, among them backup keeper Gomes and defender Lúcio, wore T-shirts with “Jesus Loves You” printed on them in various languages.
Kaká is a member of the organization Atletas de Cristo (“Athletes of Christ”). His goal celebration consists of him pointing to the sky as a gesture of thanks to God, and he is proud that he was a virgin when he married. His favourite music is gospel music, and his favorite book is the Bible. Since November 2004, he has served as an Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, the youngest to do so at the time of his appointment.
Kaká was sworn in as an Italian citizen on February 12, 2007. He features prominently in Adidas advertising and also has a modeling contract with Armani, but the latter prevented him from appearing in a photo collection alongside his Milan teammates that was published by Dolce & Gabbana in early 2007. He married his childhood sweetheart Caroline Celico on 23 December 2005 at the evangelical Reborn in Christ Church in São Paulo, Brazil. Their first child, Luca Celico Leite, was born in Milan, Italy on June 10, 2008 .
His nickname is pronounced as it is spelled, with stress on the second syllable. It is a common term of endearment of “Ricardo” in Brazil. In Kaká’s case, however, it was born from younger brother Rodrigo, who is now known as Digão, calling him “Caca” due to his inability to pronounce “Ricardo” when they were young; it eventually evolved into Kaká. He is occasionally called “Ricky Kaká” by the European media.
Club and national team
* Copa de Juvenil: 2000
* Torneio Rio-São Paulo: 2001
* Supercampeonato Paulista: 2002
* Serie A: 2004
* Italian Super Cup: 2004
* UEFA Champions League: 2006-07
* UEFA Super Cup: 2003, 2007
* FIFA Club World Cup: 2007
* FIFA World Cup: 2002
* FIFA Confederations Cup: 2005
* Revista Placar Bola de Ouro: 2002
* Campeonato Brasileiro Bola de Prata (best player by position): 2002
* CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI: 2003
* Serie A Young Footballer of the Year: 2003
* Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year: 2004, 2006, 2007
* Serie A Footballer of the Year: 2004,2007
* UEFA Champions League Best Midfielder: 2005
* UEFA Team of the Year: 2006, 2007
* FIFPro World XI: 2006, 2007
* UEFA Champions League Top Scorer: 2006-07
* UEFA Champions League Best Forward: 2006-07
* UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: 2007
* FIFPro World Player of the Year: 2007
* Ballon d’Or: 2007
* FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball: 2007
* Toyota Award: 2007
* FIFA World Player of the Year: 2007
* World Soccer Player of the Year: 2007
* Onze d’Or: 2007
* World‘s best Playmaker: 2007
* IAAF Latin Sportsman of the Year: 2007
* Copa dos Campeões: 2001
* Torneio Rio-São Paulo: 2002
* Campeonato Paulista: 2003
* CONCACAF Gold Cup: 2003
* Intercontinental Cup: 2003
* UEFA Champions League: 2004-2005
* Serie A: 2004-05