I blame Ricardo Kaká for turning me into a romantic. For me being at constant odds when I had job security but never the satisfaction. Here’s my tribute.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to get awfully low this time of the year. It’s Christmas and everything, but it seems to me that social feeds are full of people having a better time than I am. And all my good friends are everywhere but not here.
You see, I don’t get paid enough at the end of the month to be able to go out and meet them at the end of the year (surge prices are the pits, man). I blame it mostly on myself and Ricardo Kaká.
To say that I remember it like it was yesterday would be a lie. It’s foggy, like a faded polaroid with edges glassy-white. Like memory with cataract. But I still smell the burning incense that kept the mosquitoes away in the dark. That and the ghoulish haze of the TV was the only light in the room my parents slept in.
It was almost inevitably past my bedtime. I come from one of those football-godsforsaken places where the live Champions League matches air well past midnight. And, more tellingly, I come from one of those households where the lights were out by ten.
I treated that match, the one I’m talking about, like a first date. As with first dates, you’ve got to be sure that you’re well early and proper. And I was. There, sat right on the floor as close as I could to the telly, an hour before kick-off.
I used to turn down the brightness and the volume as low as I could afford to. I wanted to know what the players were called and how to call them right, and I wanted to be able to tell one apart from the other by the movement of their blobby bodies on the CRT screen. Most of all, I didn’t want to get an earful from my father who had to get up at four in the morning (I never woke up early enough to find out why).
There was too much information on the build-up show, and I was still undecided whether to listen to the conversation, nevermind fall in love. But I picked the worst possible night to try and play hard to get. My first Champions League experience was on May 25th, 2005. AC Milan vs Liverpool Football Club. The football that was played that night bedded my imagination.
Held across the lands of ancient Greece and Etruscan, the event called Symposium consisted of a banquet, where men of sharpness of thought and tongue debated about the houses of philosophy. In Istanbul on that night, I saw it enacted in front of my eyes.
AC Milan’s diatribes of deft touches were stabbing holes into the rag-tag romantics from Liverpool. AC Milan’s number 22, with the Adidas Predator Absolute, seemed to have put an end to the debate in a 43rd minute flourish worthy of Demosthenes.
At the start of the rhetoric, Ricardo Kaká was facing his own men. Andrea Pirlo, on the counter, provided the premise of the argument, as Pirlo does. What followed was a denouement of a pass that might have bent the mind of Euclid into unseemly angles.
The ball first kissing the instep of Kaka’s boots shied four yards forward, as if embarrassed by its own cheek. Kaka, then, with a turn of heels as swift as leaves caught in a swirl of wind, escaped the rake-like challenge of Liverpool’s number 8.
The next instance they met, the ball would show the quiet complicity between a carrier pigeon and its master. Meandering inside Liverpool’s number 4, outside the hapless reach of a horizontal number 23, nestling on the toe of AC Milan’s number 11. With a poke into the net for 0-3, Liverpool’s fate was signed, sealed and delivered.
It was at half-time that I thought about all the tripe was taught as a child – of rhymes and fables. It was unfair, I thought, that while all men are created equal, some simply kick a ball better than others.
What’s defiance in the face of giants? Did David really beat Goliath?
How is it that Kaka can glide on grass, make time stand still with alabaster poise, make art like an open-air exhibitionist, while Steven Gerrard harrows the earth?
It was at that moment when I started feeling sorry for Steven Gerrard and for Liverpool. And it was perhaps then the first time in my life that I hoped against run-of-play and reason.
When the full-time whistle blew, the match was christened ‘the Miracle of Istanbul’. 0-3 to 3-3 in a matter of six minutes gave the teenage me a thrill no glossy pages of Penthouse or Top Gear magazine could ever come close to.
Unfancied Liverpool willed themselves into winning the greatest football competition of them all through penalties. That elation came out of somewhere pure. It wasn’t desirous/guilty/solipsist. It was then that I realised what Plato meant by Platonic in his philosophical text, Symposium. Liverpool Football Club has been mine ever since.
But this story is about Kaka and I, as much as it is about Liverpool.
As he retires this year, on the long trough of his crest, forced by injuries at the age of 35, I’ll remember him as the Ricardo Kaká of AC Milan. As an apotheosis of everything that’s beautiful about football. His grace put the Bonito in the Jogo.
The last player not named Messi/Ronaldo to win the Ballon D’Or was a winner of the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Serie A, La Liga and two Confederations Cup – a football historian simply tallying titles could never undertake a qualitative assessment of his skills. He would have had to watch him play. His best touches were understatements.
For his part, I blame Ricardo Kaká for turning me into a romantic. For me being at constant odds with myself when I had a well-paying advertising job and security, but never, never the satisfaction. In 2016, I spurned that for football – to live it, love it and write it well.
Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it. – Eduardo Galeano
A devoted Catholic, Kaka lived and played in the make of the sincerity unknown to modern footballers. The kind of sincerity I have reserved for football, family, and good friends. He learned that love is fallible and selfish, and it could wound you, as AC Milan did, selling him off to Real Madrid despite his wishes.
It seemed to me that he walked around squinting in the bright, surgical lights of Real Madrid, where scrutiny covered every corner. It was almost as if his system rejected the move like a bad prognosis.
I wished he considered Liverpool as a home away from home, instead. But Liverpool didn’t make enough at the end of that season to be able to go out and make fates and old friends meet. His second stint at Milan was like trying CPR on a dead fish. It was, finally, in the wilderness of the MLS where obscurity claimed his legacy.
Ultimately, for Ricardo Kaká, it was better to have loved and failed than to have never loved at all.
Back home at Sao Paulo, he is probably resting in his hammock, among very many friends, sipping piña colada, and basking in the bright knowledge that he loved fully.
I hope ten years from now, I too get my piña colada.