It has now been a year and a half since Kaka was crowned FIFA World Player of the Year for 2007. At the time, he had already taken part in two FIFA World Cup™ tournaments: Korea/Japan in 2002 and Germany in 2006. And yet there is a sense that the Brazilian needs to accomplish one more feat to be considered a true legend of Brazilian football, namely playing a central role in leading the Seleção to glory in the biggest tournament of them all: the FIFA World Cup.
If Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite needed a chance to show that he could live up to such a substantial responsibility, it arrived at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. As a true leader would, Real Madrid’s new signing displayed his talent when it counted most. With three goals and several assists, the 27-year-old won the adidas Golden Ball for best player of the tournament to go alongside his winner's medal.
Kaka won the individual prize due to his outstanding performance in the title decider against USA in which he was also named Budweiser Man of the Match. In the second half with Brazil trailing, Kaka was a central figure, urging his team-mates on, constantly looking for the ball and orchestrating the attacks that ultimately enabled his side to come from two goals down to win 3-2. In short, he provided leadership just when his team needed it most.
At the Festival of Champions, Kaka truly showed that he was worthy of the legendary Auriverde No10 shirt, but for his name to be forever engraved into the list of all-time Brazilian greats, he will need to repeat this performance next year at South Africa 2010. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Brazilian talent reflected upon his most recent triumph, as well as his hopes for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
FIFA.com: After Brazil’s opening match against Egypt, your role as an emerging leader of this team was discussed. Was the final your biggest day as leader of the Seleção?
Kaka: Leaders come to the fore in times of adversity and thankfully I had the chance to do so today when the Seleção needed it most. I knew that since we were behind, it was important to look for space to create attacking moves, as we did for our second goal, for example. But as I said the other day, the best thing about this team is that it has several leaders ready to step forward when we’re in trouble. You need look no further than our captain Lucio who scored the winning goal, or Luis Fabiano who proved his goalscoring potential when we really needed it. The fact that so many different players are willing to take on responsibilities shows that this is a strong group of individuals, which is what you need to win titles.
Brazil also won the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005 and yet failed to live up to high expectations the following year at the FIFA World Cup. What can you do to prevent this from happening again?
Things have changed since then. This is a new season, a new group of players with a different attitude. The players are hungry for success and willing to give everything to achieve it. For Brazil, the key is preparation. If we prepare well for a tournament, as we did in the Copa America 2007 and this Confederations Cup, and as we hope to do in 2010, the results will then follow.
Are you surprised that some of the key players have been ones with little experience with the Seleção?
The fact that they’ve come into the group and been crucial to our success shows the strength we have as a team. We must congratulate Andre Santos, Ramires, Felipe Melo and Alexandre Pato, as despite being new faces, they have managed to fit into a winning team like ours. When the right structure is in place, new players don’t have problems with their performance. There is an excellent atmosphere and attitude within the group, so talented players have no problems in showing what they can do.
With such a strong squad already assembled, will there be any openings for places ahead of South Africa 2010?
We do have a fantastic bunch of players and I’d say that 70% of them are sure of their places. But there’s still a long way to go before the World Cup, and with the footballing talent in Brazil, I’m sure that between now and then there will be new players in the frame battling it out for certain positions. Of course what we've achieved here in South Africa and the way we went about it will count for something, but Brazil has a lot of talent and next year is still a long way off.
What was said at half time to instil such determination and potency for the second half?
Dunga’s job is to give us a clear idea of our potential. Nobody panicked when we were 2-0 down because we knew what we needed to do to regain control and stage a comeback. We managed to do just that and thankfully we won the match.
Next season is the last before the 2010 FIFA World Cup and you have transferred to a new club. Is this a key season in your career?
It’s clearly an important time for me, with many new experiences ahead because I’m changing clubs. In any case, I think it’s off to a good start – this is my first title as a Real Madrid player.