Why Real Madrid haven't got Kaka’s number

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With a feint as elegant as any he showed in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final, Kaka has given Real Madrid’s attempts to make him the new Zidane the swerve.

In an interview with Champions – out on July 8 – the Brazilian made it clear that: “I wouldn’t like to wear Zidane’s No.5. That would be a huge responsibility after all he has done for the club over the years.”

His own preference was probably No.18 – the number he wore playing for the Rest Of The World against Real Madrid on February 18 2002 in a match to celebrate the club’s centenary, and his age when he fought back from the injury that could have left him paralysed.

But 18 isn’t an especially sexy number. It doesn’t have the quirky resonance of Michael Jordan’s 23 and was only worn as 1+8 at Inter by Ivan Zamorano because Ronaldo wouldn’t relinquish his No.9.

Inter Milan vs Sesame Street 

And the number has some odd associations: 18 could be a coded homage to Adolf Hitler as it uses the first (A) and eighth (H) letter of the alphabet.

Certainly this choice could have hit Madrid's merchandising machine in Belgium, where footballers have been banned from wearing 18 and 88 (usually taken to stand for HH – Heil Hitler) because of their suspected Nazi sub-texts.

This is not to suggest that Mikael Silvestre, Dirk Kuyt or Marek Jankulovski (who all wear No.18 for their clubs) have any idea of the number’s sinister undertones or are even aware of the British neo-Nazi movement Combat 18.

Madrid’s marketing men felt that, purely in the interests of shirt sales, it was the Brazilian’s duty to wear a more iconic number.

Within the club hierarchy, the idea of Kaka as Real’s No.5, as the new Zizou, seemed the perfect solution, almost as much of a no-brainer in this sequel-ridden world as Harry Potter VI and Police Academy 67.

But Kaka obviously dug in and, after some wrangling and wrestling, player and club compromised on No.8.

In football parlance, it’s not an especially legendary number, lacking the mythology that surrounds 7, 9 and 10.

"We'll start the bidding at 65 million Euros" 

Hristo Stoitchkov wore 8 for Bulgaria in the 1994 World Cup, while three clubs have retired the number: Cobreola (for midfielder Fernando Cornejo), Dynamo Ceske Budejovice (Karel Poborksy) and Fredrikstad (for winger Dagfinn Enerly).

In a battle of global football icons, none of these are seriously going to challenge Kaka but maybe that is the point: this is the Brazilian’s chance to become the definitive number eight.

Eight is regarded as a lucky number by the Chinese (it sounds like the word for prosper), Buddhists (there are eight spokes in the wheel that symbolises Buddha’s teaching) and many Christians because, as Kaka would certainly know judging from his evangelical line of T-shirts, Jesus Christ dwells on eight beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount.

So Kaka is now No.8, moving incumbent Fernando Gago to No.5 – a number which, in Argentinian football is almost as resonant as 10, signifies a defensive midfielder who has the artistry to play a bit too.

Eight is a small victory for Kaka, evidence of the determination that  – since his remarkable recovery as a teenager – hasn’t always been apparent beneath the beautifully spun blandness of his public persona.

And if his move to Madrid succeeds, kids across the world could be wearing 8 in his honour for years to come.

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