Kaka believes AC Milan have what it takes to make an impact in the Champions League despite a seven-year absence from the competition.
The Brazilian playmaker gave an exclusive interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport on the eve of the Rossoneri’s group stage opener at Anfield against Liverpool, a team that Milan and Kaka know very well.
He began by discussing the history that the two teams have in the competition, in particular the final that took place 14 years ago in Athens, with his comments to the newspaper relayed by PianetaMilan.
“Those two finals are football. The way we lost in Istanbul, the revenge and the hunger with which we returned. 2007 was the perfect year for me, European champion as top scorer, Ballon d’Or and Fifa World Player of the Year,” he said.
“But I keep everything, even the defeat two years earlier, because it taught me so much. At the end of the game I was wondering ‘ Will I have another chance? Will I still be able to win a Champions League? ‘. You all know how it went…”
On the fact Milan have never played at Anfield: “I have! With the Legends [Milan Legends team], a beautiful emotion. Joking aside, it will be special: the unpublished Anfield, an ideal debut for this Milan.
“It will be very hard, but there are all the ingredients for a great performance. There is Ibra who returns at almost forty, there are many young talents who will be able to compete with an opponent of the highest level. It will be an important test for everyone, even for the club that will be able to understand which elements to count on in the coming years.
“I saw the 2-0 against Lazio, Milan dominated by playing aggressive, fast, always proactive football. There are many variables to consider, the long-awaited return and the fact that Pioli has never faced the final phase of the Champions League will weigh.
“But if Milan are solid and compact like Sunday, we will have fun. Much will depend on the ability to read the first minutes of the match: the intensity of a top English team like Liverpool is different from that of the Italians, but it is the beauty of the Champions League. You cross schools that are different from yours, you readjust yourself.”
Kaka was asked if there is any area that AC Milan appear to be stronger than tomorrow’s opponents, and he praised the make-up of the current squad from a dynamic point of view.
“First of all, a nice mix between young players and experienced players. I lived it, I know how important it is to grow alongside Maldini, Cafu, Sheva, Inzaghi, Costacurta, people who did not think about the expiry of the contract but only about the good of the club.
“Today it’s up to Ibra, Kjaer, Giroud: they will show the way, there is no lack of quality in the squad. And then Milan comes back with a different hunger: Liverpool have already won and are confirmed at the top for years, but the enthusiasm of those who have dreamed of playing this tournament for a long time can make the difference.”
Stefano Pioli has drawn a lot of praise for his role in helping Milan’s recent resurgence, and Kaka believes he is the right man for the job at this moment.
“He has everything to enter among the greats of the bench, a very good coach and an excellent manager. I like the fact that Milan have confirmed this and that they do not ask him for everything right away: it takes time to build, but Pioli has already made important steps.”
On the possibility of getting through the groups, he added: “I don’t see a big difference in the group, they can play it on an equal footing with everyone and go through. Then we will see, from the second round onwards it is almost impossible to find easy opponents. For sure, those who survive this group will have something more than the others.”
On Milan in relation to the other Italian clubs in the Champions League: “Same chance to make it through. Atalanta is now a certainty, Inter have lost important players but have rebuilt, Juve are used to it.”
On the fight for the 2022 Scudetto: “I think it could be the right time for Milan. They have continuity, while the others have lost something: Juventus no longer have Ronaldo, Inter will have to redistribute resources without Lukaku. Romelu is number one, he reminds me of the best Adriano: physical strength, intelligence, speed.
“A year ago Milan took the lead after the first leg, then Inter took the lead and won with merit. But Pioli gave up on Ibra for a long time, Conte always had Lukaku. Today Ibra is still there and Giroud has joined, I think and hope that we can get to the end.”
On Zlatan Ibrahimovic: “He weighs on the pitch, we saw it with Lazio. Easy goal but he was there. He will also weigh in at Anfield, for his team-mates and for the Liverpool defenders: with someone like him you can’t get distracted, even if your name is Van Dijk.
“Zlatan lacks a great international trophy as a protagonist, but he is not the only big player who has not won the Ballon d’Or. And this does not cancel the fact that he is a myth: he too is history.”
On the arrival of Olivier Giroud at Milan: “Another figure that weighs, like Ibra. He chose to come to Italy at his age, despite an already successful career: it is the signal of who will affect again.”
On Brahim Díaz: “I like him a lot, he has already matured a lot and can still go a long way. I’m curious to see how he will approach Liverpool: goals and assists count, but personality more.”
On Junior Messias: “I don’t know him, but I trust Paolo Maldini. And then I heard about his beautiful story, it fascinates me a lot. I am happy that there is a Brazilian at Milan again, it is a tradition to carry on. Together we have won something, haven’t we?”
On Gianluigi Donnarumma’s farewell to Milan: “He made a personal choice and I won’t go into the matter, but I think it’s a professional matter: you can’t leave Milan just because you’ll earn more elsewhere.
“He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, he has just won the European Championship and is now aiming for the Champions League with PSG. At Milan, however, there are Calabria and Tonali, in the future they could be what Maldini, Costacurta, Gattuso and the other Italians were for me.”
On who will score Milan’s first goal in the Champions League after his last in 2014: “I say Ibrahimovic. He has no age, just like Milan in the Champions League.”