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Kaka Retires: Ballon d'Or, Milan glory and Brazil brilliance among career highlights

The last player to win the Ballon d'Or before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's extraordinary era of dominance, Kaka announced his retirement from professional football on Sunday.

In addition to claiming the most prestigious individual prize in the sport, the 35-year-old won Serie A, LaLiga, the Champions League and the World Cup in a career that saw him play for Sao Paulo, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Orlando City.

He also appeared 92 times for Brazil, starring alongside the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Robinho.

Here, we pick out some career highlights and key moments of the Rossoneri and Selecao favourite.


World Cup glory | 2002

Kaka's early efforts for Sao Paulo earned him a place in the squad for the World Cup in Japan and Korea.

His only appearance was off the bench in a 5-2 group-stage win over Costa Rica in Suwon, the newcomer replacing Rivaldo, who netted Brazil's third to go with Ronaldo's brace and strikes from Edmilson and Junior. 

The brilliant front three of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo kept Kaka out of the team after that as the Selecao secured what remains the most recent of their five World Cup successes under Luiz Felipe Scolari. 

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Scudetto success | 2003-04 

Milan swooped to sign Kaka for what now appears to be a paltry €8.5million, and he repaid them by setting up the Andriy Shevchenko header that sealed the Scudetto ahead of the chasing Roma side led by former Rossoneri coach Fabio Capello. 

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Champions League final pain | 2005

Kaka ended up on the losing side of the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, where Liverpool rallied from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties.

Often forgotten thanks to that extraordinary comeback is the brilliance of Kaka's assist for Milan's third goal, a piercing throughball that split the Liverpool centre-backs and fell perfectly for Hernan Crespo to dink over Jerzy Dudek. 


Brazil 3-0 Argentina | 2006 

Many supporters attending the glamour friendly between Argentina and Brazil at the newly opened Emirates Stadium in September 2006 were hoping to see something special from emerging Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

But their abiding memory of the fixture was the sight of the future superstar chasing in vain as Kaka collected a cleared Argentina corner and dribbled mesmerizingly from inside his own half before sliding a finish past Roberto Abbondanzieri to net a stunning solo goal in the 88th minute.


European heroics and Ballon d'Or | 2007

Manchester United were approaching one of their many peaks under Alex Ferguson in 2006-07, Premier League winners and a season away from capturing the second Champions League crown of the Scot's glittering tenure.

But they were denied a shot at European glory in April 2007 due to a virtuoso display from Kaka, one of the finest of his career, in the semi-finals. 

He netted twice in the first leg at Old Trafford, where United rallied from 2-1 down to win 3-2, and then opened the scoring in a comfortable 3-0 victory back at San Siro, before Milan gained revenge on Liverpool in the decider in Athens. 

Kaka had already scored as Milan overcame Celtic and Bayern Munich earlier in the knockout rounds, with his efforts on the European stage deservedly earning him the Ballon d'Or.  

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Manchester City transfer saga | 2009

Kaka could have joined Robinho at Manchester City in January 2009, as new owner Sheikh Mansour sought to make a huge statement early in his overhaul of the perennial Premier League strugglers.

A fee of £91million and salary of £500,000 had reportedly been proposed, but the Brazilian remained in Italy, with City chief executive Garry Cook indicating fault for the collapsed move appeared to lie with the Rossoneri.

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "In my personal opinion, they [Milan] bottled it."

However, Kaka later claimed it was his decision not to go through with the transfer. 

"Negotiations went very far indeed," he told FourFourTwo.

"The only thing separating City and I was my final word."


Madrid derby stunner, LaLiga title triumph | 2011-12

Despite rejecting City, Kaka's Milan days were numbered, as he joined Real Madrid for €67 million in June 2009.

That transfer was quickly eclipsed by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United and Kaka never quite reproduced his best Milan form at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Ronaldo instead went on to become the club's talisman and dominant force.

There were still flashes of Kaka's genius in Spain, though, among them a stunning long-range strike in the derby against Atletico Madrid in 2011-12, the season when Kaka claimed his lone Liga title under Jose Mourinho. 

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