Belfast Telegraph

Class act Kaka shows why football is not always about cashing in

By Steven Beacom

Brazil v Australia, Munich, World Cup finals 2006. It remains on my list of the favourite sporting occasions I've reported on.

There was the coolest vibe in the city the night before with Brazilian fans enjoying a samba through the busy streets as hundreds of boisterous Aussie supporters danced the conga behind them.

The feelgood atmosphere continued inside the awesome Allianz Arena prior to kick-off. This was a carnival as much as a football match.

I was sitting beside a football journalist from Rio, who was fascinated by and seemed pretty much in love with George Best.

He spoke the Queen's English as well as Her Majesty. As we say here, the craic was good.

The match itself wasn't too shabby either with Brazil winning 2-0.

Afterwards in the mixed zone, where you wait to speak to players who may or may not give you the time of day, I chatted to Aussie defender Lucas Neill about the match.

I'd met him a few days earlier following his previous game. Lucas had Northern Ireland connections and was proud of them and happy to talk. Decent bloke. Interview over. Copy to file.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my new mate from Rio and walked over to wish him well. Quick as a flash he introduced me to the Brazilian player he was talking to, excitedly telling him I was from the same place as 'Georgie Best'.

The player was Kaka – or Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite to give him his full title.

My Portuguese is pitiful, but the three of us managed to converse thanks to the enthusiasm and linguistic skills of Rio's finest reporter. Kaka didn't know me from Adam Ant, but he was charming, polite and genuinely down to earth.

And what a footballer – a player with balance, skill and an eye for goal.

In 2007 after helping AC Milan to Champions League glory he was voted World Player of the Year. In 2009 Kaka moved to Real Madrid for a world record fee of £56m.

Despite all his talent the switch to Spain never worked out with injuries and a loss of form rendering him a bit-part player at best rather than the star of the show he ought to have been.

In the summer the 31-year-old moved back to Milan on a free transfer, but in his first game back for the Rossoneri at the weekend – a 2-2 draw at Torino – he picked up a thigh injury.

Instead of bemoaning his ill fortune, what did Kaka do? He informed the Serie A giants that he did not wish to be paid until he was playing again, adding all he wanted from Milan was 'love and support'.

Kaka of course is wealthy enough to do it – unlike the likes of me and you – but let's take the gesture for what it is – a selfless and admirable deed from a class act in an all too often ruthless, self-centred, cash dominated sport. Don't expect it to catch on.

Belfast Telegraph


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