"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."
Kaká retiresJust before Christmas the Brazilian legend, Kaká, announced his retirement from football at the age of 35. He began his career with São Paulo, played his best football for AC Milan (2003-9) before joining Real Madrid (2009-13). He returned to AC Milan for one season and then finished his career in USA with MLS club Orlando City.
Meeting KakáHe played 92 times for Brazil scoring 29 goals. He played in three World Cups and was a World Cup winner in 2002, although he did not play in the final. Controversially he was left out of the Brazil squad for the 2014 World Cup. In 2007 he won the FIFA Ballon d'Or, awarded to the world's best player. He is one of only eight players to win the treble of World Cup, European Cup/Champions League and Ballon d'Or.
Playing for AC MilanPlaying in the 2002 World Cup is a very special memory for him: “I was 20 years old at the time and it was my first World Cup. I played for 25 minutes in a match against Costa Rica but I felt like a world champion. It was a short experience, time wise, but the experience I had among the 23 players of that National Team was really great. For me, it was really special to be among that group and to have been a World Cup winner in 2002. It brings me great satisfaction and I am really happy to be able to say that I participated in the fifth time Brazil won the World Cup”.
He should have played a part in the final but was denied his moment in bizarre circumstances: “With a few minutes left of the 2002 World Cup, the coach [Filipão Scolari] called me and told me to get ready to go on. Brazil was already winning 2 - 0 and Germany had lost any hope of winning. Brazil began to pass the ball and the ball wouldn't go out of play. Then the referee blew the final whistle so I just ran into the field and the only thing I could do was to glorify and to thank God”.
Despite all his success, he was clear about the source of his significance as a person: “Some people would ask, ‘if you have won everything, and are rich and famous why do you still need Jesus?’ I need Jesus every day of my life. Jesus tells me, in the Bible, that without Him, I can't do anything. I really believe that without Jesus, we can't do anything. The gift and ability I have today to play football is because God gave it to me. It is a gift from God that I try to improve on every day. That is why I need Jesus in my life every day.
“The difference Jesus makes in my life is that I know that I will always have victory, I will always have joy, and I will always have success. This is independent of the situations I face or, because I know that in the end, there will be greater victory. This brings me great peace, serenity, tranquillity and happiness because I am sure that Jesus is in control of my life. I know that He is like a Father who doesn't want anything bad for His child and He only wants the best for me and those around me, including my family”.
I have twice had the opportunity to interview Kaká for video projects, both times when he was playing for Real Madrid. He offered us an hour, turned up early, stayed late. He answered every question then was happy to pose for photos and sign a few photos and shirts to promote the programme. He is a legend of football but also a fine human being. He will be missed.
Photos: Martin Bateman