Kaká entered this summer with the future firmly fixed in his mind. It always loomed as a potential turning point for him, a chance to chart a new path or stick with the familiar road already well worn.
The former FIFA World Player of the Year fielded interest from across the globe as he contemplated his next step. It is how this system works at the top end of the market: players are wooed before they nominally hit the market. He surveyed the options available and whittled his choices down to three.
“After I finished the season with Milan, I started thinking about my future: go back to Brazil and play in Brazil, go to the United States or go back to Milan,” Kaká said during a conference call on Wednesday. “I had these three things in my mind.”
Choosing between them proved difficult. Milan offered the easiest, safest route with a contract already in place for next year. Brazil provided a chance to return home and close the loop on his career. MLS represented a turn toward the unknown, but it also supplied a chance to build something from scratch.
The possibility of moving to Orlando City excited Kaká, though. It gave him an opportunity to fulfill his dream of playing in America with a club pulling out all of the stops to sign him. It handed him the responsibility of constructing a new team with a friend and business partner (Orlando City investor/operator Flavio Augusto da Silva) and fostering the continued growth of the game in the United States. It also provided him with security of a long-term deal (a guaranteed, three-and-a-half year deal through the end of 2017, according to da Silva’s Facebook page and the Orlando Sentinel) at a point when the terms start to shrink.
“We’ve been talking about this deal in the last year,” da Silva said. “It’s always hard to get a player on the level of Kaká because he’s a guy who could choose to play anywhere, in any country, in any market. But in this case specifically, it was not so hard because Kaká is a visionary player, a visionary guy.”
Kaká eventually picked possibility over familiarity. There were a few details to sort out – the exit from Milan by triggering a clause to terminate his contract, the loan spell with Sao Paulo to stay active before Orlando City takes the field in 2015 – to eventually complete the agreement, but he signed the deal on Tuesday to officially join the club as its first Designated Player.
The former UEFA Champions League and World Cup winner, 32, arrives at a good time to make a significant contribution. He is not the rampaging force of several years ago, but his class endures. He forms a capable, creative and willing building block for a club plotting its transition from USL PRO to MLS next year. He joins the league at a point where he can still make a considerable impact with his skill and his vision.
“I think this is the right moment for me,” Kaká said. “I’m not too old and I’m not too young. I have the experience to come and give a lot of things to the league. I think this is right moment to come to MLS. I think the league is getting better every year. It’s increasing a lot. I think MLS has a great, great future in soccer. This is my vision for American football. It’s why I decided to come. This Orlando City project is so serious. I’m so happy to be a part of this project.”
It is now a project largely defined by his arrival. Orlando City carefully cultivated its club and developed its identity over the past few years, but Kaká will now serve as its primary representative. He lends his cachet and his celebrity to the club. In turn, he now shoulders the responsibility to ensure its success over the short- and the long-term.
There were other, more conservative choices to make here. Most players probably would plumped for them. Kaká looked into the future and selected a different option. He sees opportunity ahead in America. Now all he has to do is wait a few more months to pursue it.
In the end, I thought a lot about this. I had one more year left on my contract with Milan. I have to play six months before we start to play in MLS. These six months were a problem, but in the end, we found a solution.
Kaka on his decision to leave AC Milan to sign with Orlando City. He will join Sao Paulo on a six-month loan deal before Orlando City makes its MLS debut next year.