Kaká to City: The deal of a lifetime
Manchester City has made a world-record $145 million bid for AC Milan star Kaká
New billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour wants to remake City into a powerhouse
Kaká may eventually accept offer, but it may take more to make him leave Milan
It's the classic "offer you can't refuse" -- the tipping point at which anything becomes possible. Manchester City's $145 million bid for Kaká is a shot into unknown territory. It roughly doubles the previous world-record transfer of $65 million, set 7˝ years ago when Zinedine Zidane left Juventus for Real Madrid.
AC Milan has accepted the offer. Kaká has yet to do so. Early next week, together with his father, Bosco Leite, he will meet City officials to discuss their offer. They're ready to pay him $37 million a season. (You may have seen reports suggesting a figure of $20 million -- that's incorrect; that number is derived from his offer in euros, which is €15 million, but that figure is quoted in net terms, as is the custom in Italy.) That would represent a 50 percent increase over his current salary, although, under the terms of his current contract, he's going to receive a $1.8 million bump every year through 2013.
So that's the deal. But here are the answers to some important questions in what promises to be the deal of the millennium so far.
Q: Given the current economic climate and the size of the offer, isn't Manchester City paying far too much?
A: Probably. But City isn't like any other club. It's owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and he seems willing to splash the cash. He's not driven by profit or business sense when it comes to City.
More to the point, Kaká fits into a longer-term strategy for the club. Bringing him in would provide instant legitimacy and make it easer to sign other high-profile players. City isn't doing too well at the moment, and logic would suggest building slowly. But Sheikh Mansour wants instant success, and he's ready to pay for it.
Q: Wouldn't a massive club like Milan be better off hanging onto Kaká?
A: In some ways, yes. You don't want to see one of the top three players in the world leave at 26, just as he's hitting his prime. At the same time, it would allow Milan to save, between wages and transfer fee, in excess of $260 million. That's a lot of money, and the club can use it to rejuvenate and strengthen the squad.
It's a strategy that Juventus used back in 2001 when it sold Zidane. The funds raised allowed Juve to bring in Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved. And it worked. In the previous three seasons with Zidane, Juventus didn't win anything. In the next five years without him, the Bianconeri won four Serie A titles. So sometimes, sacrificing a great player can work out in the long-term.
Q: If City is offering so much, why hasn't Kaká already signed?
A: Well, first of all, he's genuinely attached to Milan. He has said he wants to "grow old there," although he tempered that comment by adding, "If the club wants to sell me, obviously I have to sit down and talk." And that's what he's doing. There are plenty of reasons for Kaká to be reluctant. For one, he's already the highest-paid player in the world, so the extra cash isn't so much of a factor.
More importantly is that City isn't in the Champions League and won't be until 2010-11 at the earliest. Playing on club soccer's biggest stage matters to Kaká (and to his sponsors). Equally, he'd be leaving one of the biggest clubs in the world with a genuinely global reach to join a team that has underachieved consistently and hasn't won anything since 1976.
Before he moves, Kaká wants assurance that Sheikh Mansour is in it for the long-term and that he'll continue to spend to strengthen City. There's also a strong suggestion that he'll ask for some kind of get-out clause, which would enable him to leave City for a fixed fee if the club fails to make the Champions League in '10-11.
Q: City is close to the relegation zone right now. Will Kaká alone be able to make a difference?
A: No. City has spent big over the past two seasons, but it hasn't worked out (partly due to injuries, partly due to poor choices). But personally, I don't think City is that far away from breaking into the top four in the English Premier League. If the club can add a veteran goalkeeper (Joe Hart is very good, but still somewhat green), a versatile defender, a top-notch holding midfielder (allowing Vincent Kompany to return to the back four, which is where he belongs) and a consistent goal-scoring center forward, a top-four finish next season is a distinct possibility.
Q: So if Milan is willing to sell Kaká, why aren't other teams after him?
A: Well, simply put, matching City's offer is nearly impossible. But I stress the word "nearly." Real Madrid had budgeted a similar figure to sign Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. If that money is still around, it might be worth Real's time to take a stab at Kaká.
There's little question Kaká would rather be at the Bernabéu than at Eastlands. And if Real plays its cards right, it might even be able to use Kaká as leverage over Ronaldo and Manchester United. Having a lot of money and two potential targets could create something of a reverse-auction effect. But for now, that's a pipe dream.