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Jan 30, 2007

Brazilians but not friends reunited

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Ronaldo's decision to sign for AC Milan will cause consternation in both the blue and red sides of the Italian city but if recent reports in Brazil are anything to go by it is also causing concern with one prominent member of the Rossinieri.

The arrival of the three-time World Player of the Year from Real Madrid does not appear to be going down too well with Kaka. Milan's top midfielder and most bankable star fell out with Ronaldo during the World Cup and the two have drifted apart ever since, according to news reports in Brazil that appear to be confirmed by Kaka's own comments.

Neither Kaka nor Ronaldo have spoken about the disagreement, which came after Kaka publicly criticised Ronaldo for his lack of movement in Brazil's opening World Cup match against Croatia.

Brazil won 1-0 thanks to a 25-yard peach from the AC Milan midfielder but Ronaldo was leaden footed throughout and subbed after 69 minutes. Kaka later told reporters: 'a little more movement on his part would have been ideal.'

Ronaldo, whose four years of ever decreasing returns have done nothing to dent his sense of self worth, did not take kindly to Kaka's impertinence and reports in his home town paper O Globo suggested he is still upset over the perceived slight.

'Kaka and Ronaldo will never admit it publicly but the truth is that they had an ugly set-to during the World Cup in Germany,' Renato Mauricio Prado wrote in his Sunday column.

'It all began after Kaka asked for more movement from the team and intimated that the side that won the Confederations Cup (and that didn't have Ronaldo, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos) worked harder for each other.'

' 'The Confederations Cup is worthless, what counts is the World Cup,' the Phenomenon told him in a heated exchange.'

'The former World Cup winner Leonardo, who is now a manager at Milan, is going to have to work hard to smooth things out between the two.'

Prado's insight might have gone unnoticed had Kaka not added some discreet fuel to the flames last week. The young star gave a carefully worded interview to UEFA.com that, when read between the lines, dropped hints about his ambivalence surrounding the new arrival.

In it, Kaka expressed his respect for his Brazilian team-mate. However, he made a point of adding caveats about Ronaldo's motivation and more bluntly stated Milan would be better off forgetting the 30-year old Real heavyweight and instead going after younger and hungrier Seville striker Luis Fabiano.

'I don't need to tell anybody how important (Ronaldo) has been to football for the last decade and it would be delightful to play alongside (him) again,' Kaka said. 'Regardless what people say, I believe he still has a lot to offer in football if he keeps himself motivated enough.'

'Having said that, AC Milan know what they are doing in terms of looking for players. If they asked me for a youngster they could sign, I would say Luis Fabiano, a striker who has been doing really well in Spain this season.'

Kaka's advisors in Brazil downplayed talk of a rift and said the 23-year old has privately assured them there is no bad blood between the two. But it would not be hard to imagine a difference of opinion between two men who are about as different as two Brazilian football players can be.

Ronaldo comes from a poor background in Rio de Janeiro, is outgoing and charismatic and in spite of his enormous talent he has not always reacted well to criticism. He loves the nightlife and has had a string of model girlfriends.

Kaka, meanwhile, comes from a middle class background in Sao Paulo, is reserved and well known for keeping his head down and avoiding controversy. He is a high-profile and clean cut Evangelical Protestant who recently married an 18-year old student.

Their very different lifestyles were never a problem when the starry eyed Kaka, then just 18, was drafted into the Brazilian World Cup squad in 2002 and looked on in awe as Ronaldo helped bring the cup home to South America.

Today, however, it is Kaka whose performances cause chins to drop and the ambitious 23-year old is increasingly seen as a leader for both club and country. He is not about to sit back and take on passengers in a side that is already struggling to get back on its feet after a poor start to the season, due mainly to a points deduction in the Serie A match-fixing scandal.

Ironically, that might explain why Kaka was so sparing in his criticism of Ronaldo. He knows that with Filippo Inzaghi, Ricardo Oliveira and Alberto Gilardino all jostling for a place in the startling line-up, Carlo Ancelloti will only hand him a shirt if he is in shape and in form. Kaka can afford to gently cajole Ronaldo in the hope that his criticism will spur him into action.

Ronaldo would be wise to put aside his grievances and understand that. Once again, he is being give another chance to redeem himself. This time, it may be his last.


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