If Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leite, more commonly known as Kaká, embodies anything beyond his immense skill and athleticism it would probably be intelligence and articulacy.
The Brazil playmaker is a first-class ambassador for his country, his club Real Madrid CF and for football in general. So his analysis that Madrid must be driven by the potential to win the UEFA Champions League final in their home stadium in May, but cannot not become obsessed by that idea, is typically astute ahead of the high pressure return match against Olympique Lyonnais.
Kaká and his team-mates trail 1-0 from the first leg of their first knockout round tie in France and he knows Lyon showed enough in the first leg to underline that winning this week, rather than triumphing in May, must be the absolute focus for Los Merengues. "For us the prospect of winning Real Madrid's tenth Champions Cup in the Santiago Bernabéu has to be a motivation, but not an obligation," Kaká told UEFA.com.
"If it becomes an obligation then it will make things more difficult for us. Winning 'La Décima' at the Bernabéu certainly is the fervent hope of our fans and my fellow players because there are very few clubs who even get the opportunity to play the final in their own stadium. I have both won and lost a Champions League final – it's only when you lose one and realise that you'll have to do it all again next season that you truly get an understanding of how difficult it is to lift this trophy."
However, even an experienced realist like Kaká is not above a little wistful day-dreaming. His was one of the key-note signings made by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez after winning last summer's elections.
The 27-year-old took enormous persuasion to leave his beloved AC Milan, conceding that he only did so because Real Madrid were so alluring and he was convinced that the Italian club would benefit massively from his transfer fee. So if offered the opportunity to play either Milan or FC Barcelona, Madrid's domestic rivals and UEFA Champions League holders, at the Bernabéu on 22 May what would his choice be?
"Well it's a hypothetical situation but I think my choice would have to be Barcelona because I would prefer to compete against a rival than against a club I have played for and for whom I have so much love," admits the Madrid No8. "This is a new stage of my career and I'm very happy at Madrid so if I could choose the Champions League final it would be Real Madrid against our eternal Spanish rivals."
It was the successful signings of both Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo which ignited Madrileño passions as Pérez began his rebuilding of the squad last summer. Buying the two men cost around €140m, but by the beginning of March the Brazilian and his Portuguese counterpart had not only formed a firm friendship, they had already contributed 27 goals and 12 assists between them.
"I can divide appreciation of Cristiano Ronaldo into the marvellous person who is my friend and the guy who is a unique football talent," Kaká explains. "Each of us has his own different life but that doesn't stop us being good friends and talking about everything – all subjects. Cristiano is a terrific person, very intelligent, and always driven to learn more. He's an excellent professional who works hard and as a footballer his talent, speed and ability to dribble make him unique."
The combination of home advantage, the massive investment in new signings made last year and the tradition of having won nine European Champion Clubs' Cup finals should make Madrid a stand-out favourite to reach the quarter-finals by overcoming Lyon's single-goal lead obtained by Jean II Makoun's second-half strike.
But Madrid's former Lyon striker, Karim Benzema, correctly predicted to UEFA.com before the first leg that the French side possess a remarkable ability to rise to the moment while Les Gones' two previous home wins against Los Blancos have been followed by score draws in the Bernabéu. Kaká is wary of their threat.
"Even if Lyon are having a difficult domestic campaign everything changes when it comes to the Champions League," he warns. "We are preparing to face a great opponent because they are a top club in European competition and the Champions League changes everyone's motivation." The road to the Bernabéu in May begins with a night of passion and nerves at the Bernabéu in March.
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