The Lord's player

The Sun, UK/January 20, 2009

Kaka would have become the world's best-paid footballer if he had joined Manchester City - on £415,000 a week.

But the move now looks unlikely unlike to happen after AC Milan's owner Silvio Berlusconi insisted the Brazilian ace is staying put.

Had Kaka joined the Premier League, though, he would not have blown his whopping pay packet on champagne, flash cars or strippers like many of the top-flight's stars.

Instead the deeply religious Brazilian would have used his cash to help make a scandal-hit church in his homeland extremely wealthy.

Kaka - who would have cost City an eye-watering £243million in transfer fees, agents fees and wages - reportedly donates ten per cent of his £6million-a-year wages from Italy's AC Milan to the Reborn In Christ church in Sao Paulo.

If the 26-year-old playmaker had been as generous with his predicted wedge from City, the Protestant sect would have received as much as £2million a year from Kaka.

But all talk of this mega-money deal was put into sharp perspective on Sunday when the roof of Kaka's beloved church collapsed, killing nine worshippers.

Another 95 were injured when disaster struck shortly after the evening service. The cause of the collapse was still unclear last night though Sao Paulo has been hit by torrential rain in the last week

Kaka - full name Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, shortened after his younger brother Rodrigo pronounced Ricardo as Kaka - got married in the church in December 2005 to his childhood sweetheart Caroline Celico.

Following the roof fall the star spent hours desperately phoning his homeland to find out if any family or friends were involved.

He has since told pals he wants the slice of his salary to go towards reconstructing the shattered remains.


Despite the vast wealth his career has afforded him, Kaka has always been wary of the power of money. He once said: "Money can change everything. If you put your money before everything else, you ruin it.

"For me, first comes the feeling, after that comes the money. It is just a consequence."

Kaka's outlook seems at odds with the founders and leaders of the controversial Reborn In Christ church - Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes.

The couple drive top-of-the-range cars, own 200 thoroughbred horses and now live in exile in the US.

Apostle Estevam and Bishop Sonia, as they like to be known, were arrested in Miami in 2007 for failing to declare £26,000 brought into the US. They hid cash in CD cases and books but were caught by the FBI. They were sentenced to five months in jail, fined £40,000 and remain under observation by US officials.

In Brazil the couple are wanted for money laundering. Three months ago America's Supreme Court suspended a request from the Brazilian government for the pair to be extradited.

Officials also claim that Estevam, 54, and Sonia, 50, owe more than £3million in unpaid bills and £2million in income tax.

Such charges have not shaken Kaka's faith in the movement, which has grown from 70 followers when it was formed in a pizza parlour in 1986 to two million today, with 1,500 churches around the world.

Kaka even attended a ceremony in June last year celebrating Sonia's release from prison.

He made a very public show of support when he donated his 2007 FIFA World Player Of The Year trophy to the church in Sao Paulo.

His decision to hand his award to the church sparked outrage in Brazil, but he said: "This is the conquest of an apostolic people and the trophy will remain here, in the house of the Lord".

Kaka's support of the church continues to cast a cloud over him. Arthur Pinto de Lemos, a state prosecutor from Sao Paulo's organised crime taskforce, believes the movement is only interested in money.

He said: "Their mentality was always that of business people. The doctrine of the church is businesslike and capitalist. This was always their spirit."

When one of their ranches was raided officers found jet skis, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

Kaka's devotion to the Reborn In Christ church is down to his parents. He said: "The main moment I remember was my baptism at the Renascer church. I was 11 - at that moment I was liberated.

"I was born into a Christian family. My parents were already converted. They were from the Baptist church, now they are with the Renascer church."


Reborn In Christ church also owns a television network called Rede Gospel and several radio stations.

Unlike many Brazilian football stars, Kaka was brought up in a middle-class home.

Dad Bosco Izecson Pereira Leite - also his agent and most trusted adviser - was a civil engineer and mum Simone Cristina dos Santos Leite was a teacher.

Kaka believes his faith saved his career. When he was 18 he suffered a terrible back injury after twisting his neck in a swimming pool accident.

He said: "By the side of the pool there was a slide. When I went into the water I hit my head on the bottom, came out of the water and felt a lot of pain. My brother told me I was bleeding. The first thing my parents did was pray.

"After that we went to first aid. The X-ray showed that everything was OK. Two days later, while I was playing football, I felt an unbearable pain and went back to first aid.

"They redid the X-ray and told me I had a fractured vertebra. They told me, 'You were lucky - you could have been in a wheelchair and ended your career'. I saw the hand of God in that."


Kaka thanked his brother Rodrigo for his part in helping him through his injury by paying for him to go to college.

Their father Bosco said: "Our family are united. When Kaka, aged 15, told us he wanted to be a professional footballer, we supported him straight away. Today he is what he is and we're proud of him."

If Kaka's move to Manchester City goes through, he will have to adapt to the sometimes debauched world of the Premier League. It will also be interesting to see how his new team-mates take to such religious devotion.

Kaka often prays with team-mates when he meets up with the Brazil national team. He said: "Lucio, Edmilson and I always prayed before and after matches and invited the others too.

"The atmosphere was very beautiful. We always prayed, then we spoke and read the Bible. These meetings took place in a small room.

"I believe that there are some people converted because of me. I know so many people and players."

Whatever Kaka gets up to off the field, he is unlikely to be caught up in any sex scandals. He remained a virgin until he married his wife Caroline - a service conducted by Estevam and Sonia.

When he quits football he admits he could turn his back on the beautiful game to become involved in the church.

Kaka said: "I'd like to go deeper into the Bible. I like the Bible so much. I'd like to learn more about it.

"I don't know if I'll be a priest. If I do, I'd like to tell people what God does for me and what He can do for them too."

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