Kaka: The prodigal son returns to AC Milan - but he's not the same player that left for Real Madrid

'Ricky' sealed an astonishing return to the San Siro from Real Madrid for free on transfer deadline day

The members of the AC Milan squad who were not engaged in World Cup qualifying action with their respective nations this week made the brief trip to the monotonous Swiss boarder town of Chiasso on Saturday afternoon. Throughout an extensive season the club play friendlies against local opposition during international breaks to maintain fitness levels. Whereas the vast majority of these matches fly under the radar, this particular encounter was an entirely different affair.

The hype surrounding the Trofeo Città di Chiasso to be played at the Stadio Comunale cittadino had been building up for several days. The reason for such eager anticipation was not down to the fact former Rossoneri and Italy full back Gianluca Zambrotta was unveiled as a player-coach at lowly FC Chiasso in July. It was entirely because the prodigal son had returned to Milan. Kaká was finally back, and this was his second debut for the team at which he established himself as a world-class talent. 

“I had been working on this deal for 48 months,” beamed Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani on the day of Kaká’s comeback against Chiasso. “Basically I have dreamt of bringing Ricky back from the moment he left!” Ricky - as the Brazilian playmaker is affectionately known in Italy – sealed an astonishing return to the San Siro outfit from Real Madrid for free on transfer deadline day.

The move suited all parties. Madrid were desperate to off-load the 31-year-old who had severely underperformed since signing in 2009 - despite bringing in his former mentor Carlo Ancelotti as manager in June. Milan, meanwhile, were targeting a trequartista after failing to sign Keisuke Honda from CSKA Moscow. Kaká accepted a significant pay-cut of £5m a year to finalise his homecoming.

“[Madrid president Florentino] Pérez visited Milan three times in the spring to negotiate,” revealed Galliani. The wily operator outlined that a deal to bring Kaká back to the peninsula would be “very, very, very difficult” after landing in the Spanish capital on a late night flight on the eve of deadline day. Whispers in the Italian media suggested a transfer could only be sealed with the aid of La Galaxy – in a move that would have seen the Brazilian move to the US in March after spending six months at Milan.

In the end a shock agreement was hastily reached without the involvement of the MLS team, with Madrid only expected to receive performance related bonuses from the transfer and Kaká penning a two-year contract. After it became clear the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner would not feature this season, his late ‘come and get me’ plea to Milan in the Spanish press pressurised Pérez to decisively conclude the saga.

The Brazilian revealed he had been “dreaming of hearing the Milan fans sing” as on the verge of 500 supporters congregated at Linate airport to welcome home their idol. “Siam venuti fin quà per vedere segnare Kaká” – We have come this far to see Kaká score – echoed outside the club’s headquarters on via Turati as the former São Paulo man appeared from a balcony clutching a Rossoneri jersey. Huge numbers also turned out for his first training session at Milanello and an appearance at an Adidas store.

While the Kaká love-in has continued this week, concerns have been raised that the playmaker could tarnish his memory in Milan by returning. The club has not had the best record with reunions, as Andriy Shevchenko’s loan from Chelsea in 2008 testifies. However, Galliani claims the famed Milan Lab medics – the renowned team who prolonged the careers of several star players through unorthodox methods – have browsed the statistics and report Kaká’s numbers are “almost the same as 10 years ago.”

To put it bluntly Kaká will never reach his former heights, but nor is he expected to at this current Milan. The rising stars of the team such as Stephan El Shaarawy and his namesake Riccardo Saponara cited the 2007 Champions League winner as their main inspiration long before his “Remake” as La Repubblica dubbed his reappearance. His role will be as a mature leader in a relatively young setup, in which the fresh-faced players are the most influential in the cases of El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli.

This is a vastly different Milan to the one Kaká left behind. Last year stalwarts such as Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta departed with the two best players in Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva following suit in a joint switch to Paris Saint-Germain. Milan can simply no longer attract the world’s best in the prime and president Silvio Berlusconi has enforced strict cutbacks. Galliani worked on a devoted ‘sell first, buy later’ policy throughout the transfer market this past summer. 

Reserve goalkeeper Marco Amelia’s generous gesture of handing Kaká the captain’s armband for the Chiasso friendly gave the Brazilian “shivers” as he openly confessed in a post match interview. Employed as the trequartista in a 4-0 victory, Ricky assisted Antonio Nocerino for the opening goal of the tie. The real test will be his first competitive fixture since returning on Sunday away to Torino in Serie A.

“I feel like a kid again about to make his debut,” he explained at the Adidas event on Thursday. Although Kaká is no longer the player of a decade ago when he burst on the scene against Ancona, the playmaker returns to Milan a seasoned head with the objective of driving this youthful team forward.