Kaká: small name, big price

Yes, £56million is a lot of money, but sometimes you have to spend hard cash on the pursuit of footballing artistry.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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Just when you have become innured to the idea that football has more money than sense, along comes another event to make you stop and think.

So it is with the rumours that Brazilian playmaker, born-again Christian and all-round good-looking boy Kaká (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite to his mates) is on the move from AC Milan to Réal Madrid for a fee speculated to be in the region of €65million. That’s about £56million in real money and a world record, beating the €55million that Réal paid for France’s Zinedine Zidane in 2001.

Now I understand that football is a big business. There’s an awful lot of satellite TV subscriptions, replica shirts and plain old-fashioned vanity sloshing around. Really, really good players are in short supply and command inflated prices. And Kaká is a really, really good player. I still have the way he ripped Liverpool apart in the first half of the Champions League final in 2005 firmly impressed on my brain. You can only have 11 people on the pitch at any one time, so if you’re a billionaire who wants the best team, you need to make sure that as many really good players as possible fill the 11 slots you’ve got. So, that’s alright, then.

I don’t usually have much time for the ‘how many hospitals and schools could you build for that?’ argument when such huge sums of money get bandied about. But fifty-six million quid? There’s probably some really nasty, endemic disease you could cure for that. But this is just a momentary lapse. Sometimes, footballers can be worth really big sums of money.

Of course, you get much the same kind of arguments every time a really good Van Gogh or Picasso gets sold at auction. According to Wikipedia, the most expensive painting ever sold was No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock, which was sold privately for $140million in 2006. That’s staggering, partly because of the amount involved, partly because no painting is ever going to be able pull the strings of a big game playing just off a striker the way Kaká can, but mostly because Pollock’s work is so irredeemably shit. For all the modern art buffs reading this who think I’m an ignorant philistine, explain the offside rule to me and then we’ll talk. I would argue that FIFA’s regular, convoluted reworkings of this once-simple footballing law are, in effect, a puckish satire on the nature of truth, so help me God, whereas Pollock is just a colourful attack of diarrhoea on a canvas.

Pollock aside, the point is that while the day-to-day matter of human welfare is very important, sometimes you just need to devote a lot of hard cash to the pursuit of beauty – footballing, artistic or otherwise. After all, while extending life is a vitally important aim, we want to have something to enrich us between the day we’re born and the day our toes curl up.

On the other hand, there is the question of whether any footballer is really worth £56million. Even by the stupid standards of football today, that’s an awful lot of cash. For that, you should be able to expect some serious silverware in return. Zidane delivered just one Champions League and one Spanish league title in his five years at the Bernabéu. That’s a lot of cash for not much return. Occasionally, one player can make an enormous difference. For example, in 1984 Napoli paid a world record fee of $12million for Diego Maradona. By 1987, Napoli had become the first southern Italian team to win the league title, repeating the trick in 1990 and picking up the UEFA Cup (when it still meant something) along the way, too.

The Times helpfully offered a list of the world’s worst football transfers a couple of years ago. Highlights, for the purposes of this article, included Juan Sebastian Veron, who moved from Lazio to Manchester United for £28.1million in 2003 and Andriy Shevchenko, AC Milan to Chelsea in 2006 for £30.8million. You could since, no doubt, add the £20million that Liverpool paid Spurs for Robbie Keane last summer, only to flog him straight back in the next transfer window at a sizeable loss. None of these players come close to living up to their transfer fees. For normal clubs, who have to balance income and expenditure to some degree, shelling out a fortune on one player means not having as much cash to spend building up a team.

Of course, Réal and Chelsea are not normal clubs. They are huge big blobs of ego with seemingly bottomless pockets. Réal will always manage to get bailed out, no matter how close they sail to bankruptcy, and Chelsea are owned by a Russian oligarch. There really is no sense to their spending other than glory, a trait quickly being matched by Manchester City and any other club that takes the fancy of rich Arabs with nothing better to do with their money. In that respect, there is something increasingly decadent about football. That won’t stop me watching, though.

As for Kaká, you do have to wonder if he’ll be worth it. Fantastic though he is, it’s also the case that Milan’s city rivals, Inter, have waltzed off with the league title four years running despite Milan having both Kaká and Ronaldinho in the team this year. And in that Champions League final in 2005, Liverpool stuck on an ageing German midfielder to occupy the same space that Kaká had been operating in and no more was heard from him. Milan blew their lead, it ended 3-3 after extra time, and Liverpool went home with the cup on penalties.

He’s a lovely, talented boy, that Kaká, but at the end of the day, he’s only one man.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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