FourFourTwo - - BETWEEN THE LINES - In­ter­view Felipe Rocha Il­lus­tra­tion David Buisan

Iwas sat at home when the tele­phone rang – I can still re­mem­ber it clearly. It was my fa­ther and he seemed ner­vously ex­cited. Then he told me a team in Eng­land, Manch­ester City, had made Mi­lan a huge of­fer for me. Be­fore I could even re­act, he added that Mi­lan were pre­pared to ac­cept the bid. I’d had ab­so­lutely no idea that Manch­ester City were in­ter­ested in sign­ing me un­til they’d ac­tu­ally made their of­fi­cial of­fer to Mi­lan. The process had been re­ally dif­fer­ent to how th­ese things of­ten work. City did not talk to my fa­ther – who also acted as my agent – first. They had gone straight to Mi­lan and made their in­ten­tion clear. Very clear in fact. They made Mi­lan an of­fer for me, then sat back and asked, ‘What do you think?’

Mi­lan’s direc­tors then called my dad and ex­plained to him what had hap­pened. At that time, Mi­lan were not the kind of club you ex­pected to sell its best play­ers. Their phi­los­o­phy was to sell only those play­ers who re­ally wanted to leave the club, and I wasn’t a player who re­ally wanted to leave the club. How­ever, when Adri­ano Gal­liani, the club’s vice-chair­man, spoke to my fa­ther, he told him: ‘You know, for the first time, we are ac­tu­ally keen to do this deal – it is a huge amount of money and we will ac­cept their of­fer.’ I didn’t know what to think.

I have al­ways had a re­ally close re­la­tion­ship with my fa­ther and we talk openly about pretty much ev­ery­thing. To­gether, we came to the con­clu­sion that we should con­sider mov­ing to Eng­land. We thought that if Mi­lan were will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with an­other club, some­thing that was very rare, then we should se­ri­ously con­sider our op­tions. It looked like a new, ex­cit­ing chal­lenge and a new chap­ter for me, but it had all come out of nowhere, and very quickly. Soon I started to feel con­fused and anx­ious. The sit­u­a­tion messed me up.

I was quite ag­i­tated and emo­tion­ally shaken. I re­mem­ber play­ing in a home game against Fiorentina at the San Siro right in the mid­dle of the ne­go­ti­a­tion pe­riod, and the whole sit­u­a­tion be­ing on my mind dur­ing the game. I couldn’t fo­cus at all and my per­for­mance on the pitch was bad be­cause of that. I can re­mem­ber the Mi­lan sup­port­ers scream­ing at me, ‘Don’t sell your­self, Kaka. Don’t sell your­self, Kaka.’

That was a re­ally dif­fi­cult match for me on an emo­tional level, and it summed up how much I was strug­gling through­out that pe­riod – it was any­thing but easy. The ne­go­ti­a­tions im­pacted a lot on my mood and my life as well. Which way should I go? Should I move abroad to Manch­ester and start an ex­cit­ing new ad­ven­ture in an­other coun­try, or should I stay at Mi­lan, the club I loved? It was more com­pli­cated be­cause there were many dif­fer­ent things to con­sider – so I reached out to a few peo­ple for ad­vice.

In par­tic­u­lar, I shared all of my thoughts and anx­i­eties about this un­ex­pected sce­nario with Gal­liani and Leonardo, who was Mi­lan’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor back then. They were the two guys at the club with whom I talked about it most.

Of course, my fam­ily was very im­por­tant, as al­ways, in sup­port­ing me and keep­ing me in the right frame of mind to make such a big choice. I talked about it with Caro­line, who was my wife at the time. We dis­cussed the sub­ject over and over for days on end. My par­ents and brother also knew what was go­ing on and they played a key role in me com­ing to my de­ci­sion.

I can’t deny that I hadn’t ex­pected to be liv­ing through this kind of sit­u­a­tion. I was mas­sively sur­prised by City’s of­fer, es­pe­cially as it had come dur­ing the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow when it is far less com­mon for big trans­fers to take place. If it had hap­pened dur­ing the sum­mer, when we have proper hol­i­days and there’s time for the finer de­tails to be ironed out, per­haps it would have proved an eas­ier thing to have dealt with and my choice would have been clearer. I would have had more time to think away from the club and the city – and, of course, it would not have been hap­pen­ing right in the mid­dle of the sea­son.

But the bid came in Jan­uary, and once we’d heard from Mi­lan that they were happy with Manch­ester City’s bid, my staff and I were free to ne­go­ti­ate the per­sonal terms of the deal. We were very in­trigued to hear ex­actly what this project was all about. My fa­ther trav­elled over to Eng­land to meet with City’s man­ager, Mark Hughes, and some of the club’s direc­tors a few times.

Carlo Ancelotti was the man­ager of Mi­lan. He was ob­vi­ously aware of what was go­ing on with me, but he never said any­thing that could be seen as an at­tempt to per­suade me one way or the other. He never sug­gested I should stay or leave the club – he would just come and po­litely ask how I was feel­ing, whether things were go­ing well and whether I needed any help or guid­ance – those kind of things. Carlo showed he had the com­pas­sion and per­son­al­ity to not only help me deal with such emo­tions, but at the same time con­trol the sit­u­a­tion in or­der to en­sure it wouldn’t af­fect the team. In foot­ball, the team is al­ways the pri­or­ity – it has to be, and this is some­thing I have al­ways un­der­stood well and re­spected.

It’s im­por­tant to make clear that I was feel­ing very set­tled in Italy back then. I was happy, com­pletely happy, not only at the club but also in the city and the coun­try. I had been there for nearly six years and I felt re­ally at home in my sur­round­ings. My time in Italy was great in ev­ery sense – on the foot­ball pitch and in my per­sonal life. I hon­estly wasn’t think­ing of go­ing any­where else. The club, the city, the coun­try, its peo­ple – there wasn’t a sin­gle prob­lem with my life.


Peo­ple will nat­u­rally read that and won­der: ‘So why even con­sider mov­ing to Eng­land?’ The an­swer is sim­ply be­cause Mi­lan ac­cepted an of­fer for me. When that hap­pens, it changes ev­ery­thing. If Mi­lan had re­jected that bid, it would have been the end of the mat­ter. And if the club had re­leased a state­ment say­ing some­thing along the lines of: ‘Kaka is not for sale. No money in the world would con­vince us to sell him,’ then it would have been all over and there would be no room for spec­u­la­tion. I would never have stormed into the Mi­lan board­room to de­mand a trans­fer. I wouldn’t even have po­litely asked them to let me go. No chance. I was fine. I was happy.

But if your own club is say­ing, ‘Why not?’ then your think­ing starts to change. And that’s ex­actly what hap­pened with me. Hear­ing that Mi­lan were pre­pared to sell me ob­vi­ously made me con­tem­plate my fu­ture there. Even if my re­la­tion­ship with the club and the fans had al­ways been great, they were say­ing that I could go, weren’t they? It was a pretty clear in­di­ca­tion that per­haps my time there had come to an end. Af­ter six years, it’s only nat­u­ral for th­ese things to hap­pen.

The only thing I was sure about was that the tim­ing of the sit­u­a­tion was bad for all par­ties. For clubs, it is not the best time to sign or sell a player in Jan­uary. For a player, it’s also far from ideal chang­ing clubs then, es­pe­cially in this fash­ion – mov­ing to a very dif­fer­ent league in an­other coun­try with a new lan­guage and cul­ture. Be­ing a part of an am­bi­tious project that the whole foot­ball world was talk­ing about was in­trigu­ing, but it wasn’t ideal in Jan­uary.

I can’t say I knew too much about Manch­ester City at that time, to be hon­est. I only re­ally knew the ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about the club. I was aware of Sheikh Man­sour’s takeover of the club and had been told of his in­ten­tions to re-build the en­tire team and buy the best play­ers in the world. A few months ear­lier they had bought Robinho. From that point, I ob­vi­ously knew City were be­com­ing a big club in Eng­land and I watched sev­eral of their games on TV.

At that stage, Manch­ester City were not the Manch­ester City we all know to­day. They were still at the be­gin­ning of this jour­ney to­wards be­com­ing one of the best and most pow­er­ful clubs in world foot­ball. The project of build­ing a squad ca­pa­ble of fight­ing for the big tro­phies both in Eng­land and in Europe had yet to fully de­velop. I was one of the first play­ers they wanted to sign in or­der to es­tab­lish their name. From my own per­spec­tive, it was some­thing I con­sid­ered par­tic­u­larly flat­ter­ing, but I was still very un­cer­tain.

Those dis­cus­sions with City were cru­cial be­cause we were keen to un­der­stand the ex­act de­tails of their of­fer, and we wanted to make sure all of the de­tails of this spe­cial project were clear to ev­ery­one. How ex­actly were they in­tend­ing to put their very am­bi­tious plan of be­com­ing one of the world’s best foot­ball clubs into ac­tion? Who else was tak­ing part in the project? Which other play­ers were in­ter­ested in join­ing the squad? What were the short- and long-term tar­gets?

The ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween City and I went very far in­deed. It came to the point where all of the num­bers and the finer de­tails had been dis­cussed. The of­fer was on the ta­ble. The only thing sep­a­rat­ing City and I was my fi­nal word. The wages I had been of­fered were much, much higher than what I was earn­ing with Mi­lan. In mo­ments like those, you be­gin to pic­ture how your fu­ture will look. It’s only nat­u­ral. I found my­self won­der­ing what my life play­ing in Eng­land would be like, what my rou­tine at this new club would be, how dif­fi­cult it would be for my kids and my wife to move home. All of th­ese thoughts were swirling around in­side my head. I prayed many times dur­ing this pe­riod.

Pray­ing has al­ways been some­thing that has helped me find the right bal­ance in my life. And, most im­por­tantly, find peace in my de­ci­sions.

In the fi­nal stages of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, my phone rang. Once again I was at home in Mi­lan and, again, it was my fa­ther on the other end of the line. He was in yet an­other meet­ing with City’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives. At the same time, just out­side of my win­dow, there were hun­dreds of Mi­lan sup­port­ers gath­ered in the street near my build­ing. They re­alised it was time for the last rul­ing and they had come to tell me it was also a mas­sive de­ci­sion for them as well. It was just one of sev­eral dis­plays of af­fec­tion they showed me through­out the ne­go­ti­a­tion pe­riod with City.

Mi­lan’s fans loved me. They still love me, and it’s mu­tual as I love them very much. I can’t hon­estly say that if they had not been there in front of my apart­ment my de­ci­sion would have been any dif­fer­ent, but it was still such an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing to wit­ness the depth of their af­fec­tion at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment. It was nice to un­der­stand how much they cared about me and how much they wanted to con­tinue our ad­ven­ture to­gether. They played a big part, they helped me. The fans were ev­ery­where in the street, singing. I was on the phone with my dad. He ex­plained to me the fi­nal break­down of the con­tract that City were of­fer­ing me. That was it. ‘There’s nowhere to run any more,’ he said. ‘It’s up to you now.’

‘Dad,’ I said firmly. ‘You can tell them that I am not go­ing for now. Tell them we’ll see what hap­pens in the fu­ture. My de­ci­sion is to stay with Mi­lan. That’s my fi­nal call.’

I had fi­nally come to the con­clu­sion that it was not quite the right time for me to go to City, and the main rea­son was the un­cer­tainty over the squad-build­ing process that they were about to un­der­take. It wasn’t clear to me how the squad would be re­shaped and I wasn’t too con­vinced it would work.

Nowa­days, Manch­ester City is a much more solid club, so it would be an eas­ier de­ci­sion if I had to make it to­day. Any­one who re­ceives an of­fer from them now won’t suf­fer from the same headaches that I ex­pe­ri­enced nearly a decade ago. To put it sim­ply, if my ne­go­ti­a­tions with them had taken place this year, my de­ci­sion would have been very dif­fer­ent, that’s for sure.

Un­for­tu­nately, things were dif­fer­ent back then. I was be­ing asked to swap one of the most his­tor­i­cal and suc­cess­ful clubs in Europe for a team who were only at the be­gin­ning of a com­pletely new project, where I was sup­posed to be the first big player. Look­ing back, it was safer to stay at Mi­lan, one of the lead­ing clubs in Europe and a club reg­u­larly com­pet­ing to win the Cham­pi­ons League – a place where I had be­come one of the key fig­ures and was very much re­spected.

Peo­ple al­ways ask me about that fa­mous scene where I leant out of the win­dow of my home, hap­pily wav­ing my Mi­lan shirt for all of the sup­port­ers down be­low to see. This was some­thing I de­cided to do in­stinc­tively. It was a re­ac­tion to ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened – to the con­fu­sion and pres­sure which I had suf­fered. Af­ter telling my fa­ther that I wasn’t go­ing any­where, the next step was mak­ing Mi­lan aware of my fi­nal de­ci­sion. The club, through its press of­fi­cers, im­me­di­ately made an of­fi­cial state­ment. Me­dia out­lets soon be­gan run­ning the story, and it wasn’t long be­fore the news reached the crowd gath­ered at the ground floor of my build­ing. I could hear the fans cel­e­brat­ing, scream­ing and singing. I took my Mi­lan shirt and joined the sup­port­ers in cel­e­brat­ing. They sang and danced for ages – there were even flares and smoke bombs. It was a wild cel­e­bra­tion and I’d never seen any­thing quite like it. Half an hour later, Leonardo ar­rived at my house. We spent the rest of the evening chat­ting about the process and my de­ci­sion.

I don’t re­gret my de­ci­sion at all. Ob­vi­ously ev­ery­body gets de­ci­sions wrong, but some peo­ple will spend an eter­nity dis­cussing a de­ci­sion with­out ever com­ing to a con­clu­sion on whether to do one thing or the other. I’m pleased with the way my life and ca­reer have panned out since that mo­ment. I’m happy with the per­son I am now – both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally – and my de­ci­sions in life have helped to shape the per­son I am. I’m proud of what I’ve learned in Italy, in Spain and nowa­days here in Amer­ica at Or­lando City, as well as all the other chap­ters in my life. Ev­ery mo­ment was im­por­tant to me end­ing up where I am to­day. When I fi­nally left Mi­lan a few months later, I went to Real Madrid to make my dream come true. That was one thing that had al­ways been quite clear in my head: if I had to go to an­other club af­ter Mi­lan, it would be Real Madrid. But life has its own ways and at that mo­ment the of­fer came from Manch­ester City. I guess my de­ci­sion to deny City’s of­fer is proof that the money was never a pri­or­ity in my de­ci­sions. Af­ter say­ing no to City, I knew other of­fers would come in June and July. Mi­lan had opened the door to a move and I started con­sid­er­ing it, too. I had it clear in my head that if Real Madrid showed any in­ter­est in me the fol­low­ing sum­mer, I would love to play for them.

Look­ing back, I have no doubt that play­ing in the Pre­mier League would have been a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m 35 years old now and it’s easy to say at this mo­ment. I al­ready know what has hap­pened in my ca­reer and the con­se­quences of my choices. Say­ing it doesn’t mean I re­gret any de­ci­sion. Not at all. I’m proud of my ca­reer, but if I could have planned ev­ery­thing I would have con­sid­ered play­ing in English foot­ball at some point.

You have to be calm and find peace in your de­ci­sions. And, at that mo­ment, I found the peace in say­ing no to Manch­ester City. ‘I don’t want to go, but thank you.’


Right The Ul­tras’ protests even­tu­ally con­vinced the Brazil­ian to snub a move to Eng­land Be­low right His dou­ble at Old Traf­ford helped the Ros­soneri oust Man United in the 2006-07 Cham­pi­ons League semis Bot­tom “Ah, so you heard about City’s of­fer,...

Clock­wise from above His de­ci­sion to re­main in Mi­lan sparked Kaka Ma­nia down on the streets and up in the stands; look­ing to the heav­ens af­ter the 2007 Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal tri­umph in Athens

Kaka’s pro­posed £100m move from Mi­lan to Man City was set to be one of the most sen­sa­tional trans­fers ever un­til it all fell through at the last minute – he re­veals what re­ally hap­pened

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