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Usher: Reds defence key at Basel

Liverpool about an hour ago
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Oct 1, 2007

King Kaka expects to reign in Scotland

Being the undisputed king of the soccer world brings the sort of pressure few can deal with, yet Brazilian superstar Kaka insists he is ready to accept the mantle.

The AC Milan hero rolls into Glasgow for another meeting with Celtic this week knowing he will soon be confirmed as the best player on the planet and at the age of 25, the Brazilian who almost single-handedly won the Champions League crown last season insists he will thrive on the status he will soon hold.

Both FIFA and UEFA look certain to name Kaka as their Player of the Year when the awards are handed out in a few weeks time, with his performances in Milan's run to European glory last season leaving the judging panels with few doubts over the destiny of the top prize.

Still looking baby-faced and apparently humble despite the platitudes he has become used to accepting, Kaka's ambition to repeat his Champions League heroics of last season appear to run deep and his determination to build on his already mammoth reputation serves as a warning to all who will cross him.

'I feel as if I'm only beginning to reach my peak now so the best is yet to come from Kaka,' vows the maestro who turned down overtures from Real Madrid and Chelsea during the summer.

'You can only become a mature player when you have played a lot of football and proved you are good enough to play at the top level. I feel I'm getting there now.

'Am I the best player in the world? That's for other people to decide, but the idea seems amazing to me. I believe Pele recently said I deserved to be seen like this so it is an amazing thought. Carlo Ancelotti, my coach at Milan, also said this after the Champions League Final last season.

'I look at some like Ronaldinho or Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as some of my team mates at Milan, and they have amazing talent, so it's hard to me to say I am better than the rest. I prefer to just win trophies and let people make their judgements of what I achieve.

'When people talk of you like this, it brings so much responsibility, but I look forward to accepting that. I feel as if I'm ready to be treated as one of the top players now.'

Ronaldinho's dramatic fall from grace at Barcelona and Thierry Henry's fading powers left a vacancy at the top of the game and Kaka has proved that he is more than worthy of accepting the crown.

That his sublime brilliance on the field is combined with the sort of modesty not normally associated with a player whose talents exploded in front of the watching world as Carlo Ancelotti's men closed in on another Champions League crown last May makes his a truly prized commodity. He is, indeed, fit to hold the title of the world's best.

Kaka's glut of goals in the group stages of last season's competition were followed up by the winner against a gallant Celtic side at the San Siro in the knock-out stages that went on to become a one-man show no one could stop.

It was his performances in the two semi-final clashes against Manchester United that confirmed this little Brazilian as the master many had been claiming he could become and he reflects on those two clashes with the team that went on to be crowned English champions with a gleaming smile.

'Beating Liverpool in the Final meant so much after what happened to us in 2005, but Manchester United at the San Siro was our perfect performance last season,' he continues, still clearly haunted by the Reds never-to-be-forgotten comeback in the Champions League climax of three seasons ago.

'Everyone says Arsenal are the only team in England to play with a Brazilian flair, but I feel United do it even more. Players like Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney bring so much to a game and that is why I say our victory over them in the semi-final was so special.

'I always watch English football and to play at a great stage like Old Trafford, where their fans gave them such support to come from behind in the first leg, was a great memory for me.

'What we did against United in Milan was amazing. They didn't have any chances and we beat them from start to finish. After they beat Roma 7-1 in the quarter-final, everyone believed they would be the champions, but we deserved our success.

'Now we want even more. The memories of the Champions League last season do not mean that ambition in my life has gone. I want to win the trophy again and again and after the emotion of what happened against Liverpool in Athens, we all want to experience this joy again.

'I know the statistics show no side has defended the Champions League successfully, but these records are there to be beaten. Maybe some team relaxes when they have won this competition, but no one at Milan doubts we can be back in the Final again this season.'

Kaka's match winning performances against United last season ensured he edged ahead of Portuguese magician Ronaldo in the race to be crowned the star performer of 2007 and he aims to end the year on a high by inspiring Milan to another triumph over Gordon Strachan's Bhoys on Wednesday night.

More than familiar with the demands of facing Celtic, he seems to be relishing the prospect of another night in the Parkhead caldron. 'They were tough opponents last season and I think Milan have played against Celtic four times in the last five years,' he concludes.

'Celtic are so strong on set-plays and have amazing spirit. Still, they have some weak points and we have to expose them. Scoring at Celtic will not be easy, but we have shown that one goal can be all you need to win a game like this. We came through so many tough challenges last season and this team was one of the trickiest.

'I like some of the Celtic players and (Shunsuke) Nakamura is an intelligent player. The atmosphere at their stadium is always very special and I'm sure it will be again.'

After a 2-1 victory against Benfica two weeks ago, a three-point haul against Celtic will put Milan close to qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League once again.

That will ensure Kaka's unique talents remain on display to his adoring public well into the New Year.

DID YOU KNOW: Kaka is the top earner in Italy's Serie A, taking home €6 million-a-year. Roma's Francesco Totti is his nearest rival on €5.5 million, with Inter Milan's Patrick Vieira earning €5 million.

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