02 December, 2007

Kaka is the European Footballer of the Year. But what about Christiano?

Brazil and Milan midfielder Kaka won the Balloon D'Or today, beating Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi into second and third places respectively. The prestigious award was won by Fabio Cannavaro last year and buck-toothed genius Ronaldinho took home the statue the year before.

This year's recipient is, like last year's, not quite as deserving as some of the previous winners. When Ronaldinho won it two years ago, he was hands down the best player in the world, as was Zizou in 1998. Kaka's stock has risen dramatically in the past few seasons, but anyone who has seen his recent performances for Milan will question whether or not he performs to a world-class level week in, week out. Maybe the downturn in form is due to opposition managers deciding to man mark him, or the absence of Clarence Seedorf for much of the season, who so often provides Kaka with a safety valve when Milan go forward. The last 3 times that I have seen him play, he has shown touches of what he can do, with deft flicks and touches, but none of the explosive driving forward runs that we know he is capable of.

However, the award (now also known as the World Player of the Year, thanks to the contribution of journalists around the world for the first time) is judged over the course of a footballing year, rather than on recent performance. Kaka ran the show for Milan, as they won last year's Champions League with some inspiring performances over the likes of Bayern in the quarters and Manchester United in the semis, then doing it the old fashioned way against Liverpool in the final. In this competition, Kaka led the scoring with 10 goals, 2 ahead of the biggest goal machine on Merseyside - Peter Crouch. See all of his 10 goals here:

The competiton between Kaka and Christiano is a fascinating one, as Kaka appears to be at the peak of his powers at 25, while Christiano has just broken through puberty, developing into a complete player in the past 18 months. It has to be remembered that young Christiano is a wee pup of a lad of 22 years and may be even better by the time he is 25. When the two sides met in the semis last year and played out what was to be a thrilling 3-2 victory for United, there were many comparisons between Ronaldo and Kaka. None were more flowery and lah-di-dah than the Guardian's Richard Williams:

He and Kaka are the sort of players who prompt comparisons with other forms of art. Music, most obviously. Ronaldo's mode is allegro molto vivace, with a pronounced fondness for bursts of staccato phrasing via those quick-stepping feet, his unorthodoxy extending to the fearless introduction of techniques that others might unveil only in rehearsal, for the amusement of their colleagues. Kaka plays at a permanent andante cantabile, with a sweetly flowing grace, his devastating sprint a thing of seemingly unhurried beauty, his body swaying as one change of direction blends seamlessly into another.
As much as STT hates Latin, this is a fantastic way to sum up both players. Ronaldo is indeed more staccato, with jitterbug flicks and stepovers, while Kaka plays with a sweeping force, as he seems to run more comfortably with the ball at his feet than without. While the differing styles split advocates and detractors, they have little bearing on goals, as both players have very similar goalscoring records for club and country, both averaging a goal every 3 and a bit games. In terms of what other creative talents they bring to their teams, both play in midfields packed with talent, so others can make up for their lack of flair on any given day. It is Ronaldo who is more important to his club, however, as he is irreplaceable in a team that still fields the likes of Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea, whereas Kaka has not even been the most influential midfielder at the San Siro this season. That award goes to Andrea Pirlo, who is in possession of the world's most fabulous Roman nose:

So, who deserves this award more? Kaka was the standout player in the Champion's League, the most prestigious competition since the World Cup, so he's the safe choice. He needs to put in some stunning performances for Milan in Serie A and the Champions League knockout stages. If not, it will be surprising if he wins in next year. One day, it will be Ronaldo earning the plaudits, not to mention Lionel Messi, or a certain Andrea Pirlo.