How Milan's prized asset became a class apart

Kaka's story is not the usual Brazilian tale of rags to riches. Sam Wallace on the middle-class boy who became a star
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The Independent Football

The usual South American tale of a childhood of heartbreaking poverty as a precursor to success as a footballer does not apply in the case of Kaka. He cannot claim to have learned his game in a favela or saved himself from a life of crime through football; in fact he is a good deal more middle-class than a lot of the Premier League's established stars but that does not mean that his life has not been without incident.

The best-known tale about Kaka – Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite if we are being formal – is that he broke his neck at the age of 18 in a swimming pool accident and made a miraculous recovery that he attributes to his strong Christian faith. An unpleasant history with swimming pools is about all he shares with Ronaldinho, whose father died in the pool of a house bought for the family by the Brazilian club Gremio. Otherwise he and his equally famous Milan and Brazil team-mate are very different characters.

Ronaldinho, straight out the tough part of the city of Porto Alegre, is an unapologetic devotee of nights out and chasing women. Kaka, a member of the evangelical Renascer church in Brazil, married his childhood sweetheart Caroline Celico in 2005 having announced that he was still a virgin. It is not the sort of private information that many Premier League players would be prepared to own up to, not least because of what they could expect to confront from the cruel macho humour of the dressing room. It demonstrates not only how seriously Kaka takes his faith, but also how much he understands his own standing in the game.

Only the biggest players dare to be different, and Kaka is certainly different. He was the son of an engineer, Bosco, and had the choice between university and football before he joined his first side Sao Paulo. He joined them aged 10 and it was the club that saw him through the medical treatment that he needed when he fell off a water slide in a resort he had visited with his family. He fractured his vertebra but, against expectations at the time, was not paralysed.

It was after that that religious fervour took hold of Kaka. His career took off in Brazil to the extent that at the age of 20 he was picked in the 2002 Brazil World Cup squad by Luiz Felipe Scolari and the following summer he moved to Milan for around £5m. It was arguably one of the best deals ever done by the Italian side, especially in terms of a fee that Silvio Berlusconi described as "peanuts" even before he was confronted with Manchester City's £91m offer.

He has the usual quasi-royal billing afforded to the best players in Italy. He has met the Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – Lula – on a few occasions. The birth of his first child, Luca, in June was front page news, he has a modelling contract with Armani although he would be unlikely to start thrusting his nether regions in front of the camera, David Beckham-style, for the sponsors' benefit.

Like a lot of Brazilian players, his father has become his main adviser and it is he who is likely to be key in persuading the player to make the move to Manchester. There have been suggestions that a lot of Kaka's wages are used to support his church in Brazil although the player himself has never confirmed that. Whatever happens, it is unlikely that the man upstairs will have been consulted at such length over the pros and cons of a transfer to Eastlands.

Most English football fans remember Kaka in one of his finest moments, arms aloft in the rain after Milan's victory over Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second leg at San Siro in 2007. It was a daunting display, one of those moments that put the progress required of United in perspective. They had failed to reach the standard of the very best in Europe and – at that point in time – the very best in Europe was Milan's Brazilian playmaker.

After winning the European Footballer of the Year trophy and the Fifa World Player award last season, however, he has struggled to emulate the form of the 2006-07 season, or indeed 2007-08. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, his successor in both awards this season, he is finding it a tough act to follow. Unlike Ronaldo, he is not a natural grumbler although he has been complaining this season that Milan's manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has played him out of position.

His partnership with Ronaldinho has not worked especially well, the consensus in Italy being that it is certainly less effective than when Kaka played alongside Clarence Seedorf and behind a main striker such as Alessandro Pato or Filipo Inzaghi. Yet he has still averaged one every two games for Milan – seven in his 14 league appearances this season – which stands up well to the 15 in 30 league games that he scored last season

He has had a groin injury that kept him out of action for most of November and December and at one point it was suggested that he might need a hernia operation. From a point when he was the most coveted player in Europe in May 2007, Kaka is now at the stage where his sale would not invite rebellion from the Milan fans. He is not yet at the point where he might be considered at his peak but there is no doubt that he is close to that point, a lot closer than Ronaldo who at 23 is an even more valuable commodity.

In fact, if there is one person who will look upon this transfer with mixed feelings it is Sir Alex Ferguson. His nearest neighbours might be considerably strengthened by the arrival of Kaka but when the summer arrives this deal will have transformed the European market. As Ferguson will now be able to point out when Real Madrid come knocking again this summer, if Kaka is worth £91m then what price does that put on the head of Ronaldo, as of Monday the best player in the world?

Playmaker with God on his boots

Whether Kaka belongs to Manchester City or Milan by the end of this month his faith will always belong to Jesus as his T-shirt clearly shouted out following his side's victory over Boca Juniors in the Club World Cup final in 2007.

The Milan midfielder is a devout evangelical Christian, who became engrossed in religion at the age of 12. He says he learnt at a young age that it is "faith that decides whether something will happen or not". That faith was tested when he was 18 and Kaka slipped on a slide at a swimming pool and broke his back. "The doctors said that I was lucky to be able to walk normally," he said. "They were talking about luck and my family was talking about God. We knew that it was His hand that had saved me."

The "I Belong to Jesus" T-shirt first appeared immediately after the final whistle confirmed Brazil's victory in the 2002 World Cup final. He also has the same phrase, along with "God Is Faithful", stitched on the tongues of his boots. During the post-match celebration after Brazil's 4–1 win over Argentina in the 2005 Fifa Confederations Cup final, he and several team-mates wore T-shirts that read "Jesus Loves You" in various languages. The Milan man is also a member of the organisation Athletes of Christ.

Kaka, whose goal celebration includes a point to the sky as a gesture of thanks to God, lists his favourite music as gospel and his favourite book as the Bible and since November 2004, he has served as an Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations' World Food Programme.

Record Breakers: The biggest moves

Record transfer fees

Zinedine Zidane (Juventus) to Real Madrid, 2001; £46m

Luis Figo (Barcelona) to Real Madrid, 2000; £38.7m

Hernan Crespo (Parma) to Lazio, 2000; £35.5m

Gianluigi Buffon (Parma) to Juventus, 2001; £32.6m

Robinho (Real Madrid) to Manchester City, 2008; £32.5m

Christian Vieri (Lazio) to Internazionale, 1999; £32m

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