Orlando City, the expansion team who will begin play in MLS next season, may do so with not one, but two Brazilian superstars, after it has emerged that Robinho, as well as his AC Milan team mate Kaka, were targets for the club.
Reports in Italy have suggested that Robinho has asked to buy out the remainder of his contract prior to a potential summer move to MLS and Orlando. While Kaka has long been a target for Orlando, and a potential move has been the subject of heavy hints from Brazilian majority owner/backer Flavio Augusto da Silva even before Orlando’s MLS expansion was announced, the possibility of Robinho has come somewhat from leftfield.
The long MLS courtship of Kaka has been one of the league’s worst kept secrets, but little movement had been expected before the World Cup. However with neither man making the World Cup squad, and Milan failing to qualify for European competition next year, the picture has changed rapidly. Holding expensive and aging assets with a limited need for immediate squad depth, Milan are motivated sellers, while Da Silva sees the potentially lucrative Brazilian diaspora market in Miami as one of the keys to long term success.
Crucial to such a project is a credible team on the field — and while English coach Adrian Heath has moulded a strong lower division side, who won the USL Pro (the official third tier of US Soccer) title last year, the experience of previous Florida franchises, and the owner’s intimate understanding of the expectations that come with targeting Brazilian expats, means that name recognition will be a big factor when the team launches.
Former World Player of the Year Kaka and Robinho, the one-time phenom who inspired Pele to stop a training session and tell the then teenager he reminded him of himself, would certainly fit the bill, and help satisfy some of the 214,369 people who “liked” Orlando City’s Brazilian Facebook page within two months of it being set up.
Kaka in particular is a personal friend of da Silva, and has spoken of his desire to play in the USA, though at one point the presence of his younger brother Digao on the New York Red Bulls line up, and the fact Kaka owned an apartment in the city, had caused speculation he may in fact be on his way there.
Kaka has also been linked with LA Galaxy, at the time when David Beckham was confirmed as being on his way from that club — indeed his former Real Madrid team mate used one of his farewell press conferences at the Galaxy to talk up Kaka as a possible prospect for the Galaxy. Ironically, should Beckham successfully launch his Miami MLS franchise, he could find his friend playing for his new Floridian rivals.
According to a report in Italian paper La Gazetto dello Sport on Wednesday however, Robinho may in fact sign first. His representatives have reportedly met with Milan CEO Adriano Galliani to discuss a mutual dissolution of the player’s contract, to take effect before the Italian season resumes — even though Orlando do not enter MLS play until March 2015.
Meanwhile, despite the steady drip of rumors about Kaka to Orlando, and the fact that the player has a now-triggered clause in his contract allowing him to leave should Milan fail to qualify for Europe, Galliani is bullish, publicly at least, about retaining the player — claiming on Tuesday that there was a “99%” chance Kaka would be with the Rossoneri next season. There is a real question now though over how much of that season exactly will be spent in Milan with Kaka’s international prospects so diminished (even when given such a stage), and Milan losing income right at the moment their majority owner Silvio Berlusconi appears to have finally seen his broader power base eroded by scandal and legal issues.
Orlando are refusing to comment on the transfer speculation they’ve helped fan, but will be delighted that the expansion focus, so heavily tilted towards New York City FC, is for now at least firmly on their next move. Or maybe two moves.