By Jeremy V. Jones
Brazilian superstar captures the attention of the world for more than one reason
Lying in bed for two months with a broken neck, 18-year-old Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaká as most know him, made a list of 10 goals including "return to soccer", "compete in the World Cup" and "transfer to a big club in Italy or Germany".
Yet, he was uncertain if he would ever play again after fracturing his sixth vertebra at the bottom of a water slide.
To everyone's amazement he was called up to São Paulo's professional team in January 2001, two weeks after returning to soccer.
Then on March 7, with 10 minutes remaining, he was subbed into the finals of the prestigious Rio-São Paulo Tournament.
São Paulo trailed Botafogo 1-0 when the midfielder received a high, looping pass, flipped it behind the back of a defender and fired a low shot beneath the diving goalkeeper.
Two minutes later he netted another low rocket to clinch the championship.
Having cemented a starting spot for São Paulo, within two years Kaká was playing for Brazil's 2002 World Cup champions.
By 2007 he had soccer's highest individual honors: the FIFPro World Player of the Year, the Ballon d'Or for best in the world and the FIFA World Player of the Year.
"I have been very blessed with success," Kaká shares. "It may seem that I have everything. Due to my wealth and fame, some people ask why or if I still need Jesus."
"The answer is simple: I need Jesus every day of my life. His Word, the Bible, tells me that without Him, I can't do anything. I really believe that. The ability I have to play football, and all that has resulted from it, are gifts from God. He has given me a talent to use for Him, and I try to improve on it every day.
"My motivation to win matches...has grown from wanting to be excellent for my Creator"... "to bring honor to Him"," he says.
Kaká refers to 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 31, which says, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory."
"It was a dream for me just to play for São Paulo and one game for Brazil, but the Bible says God can give you more than you even ask for and that is what has happened in my life."
Kaká avoids the limelight and temptations of the nightclubs and paparazzi scene, saying his family and faith are his anchor.
"Many people think that I became a Christian after the [neck] accident, but that is not true," Kaká says. "My parents always taught me the Bible and its values, and also about Jesus Christ and faith."
Being baptized at age 12 was an important milestone for Kaká and one that had a profound effect on his young spiritual life.
"Little by little, I stopped simply hearing people talk about the Jesus my parents taught me," he says. "There came a time when I wanted to live my own experiences with God."
His accomplishments on the field obviously brought him worldwide prominence, but Kaká's personal reputation has also drawn widespread attention as a novelty among international sports stars.
He and his wife, Caroline, famously married as virgins in 2005 and have talked about it openly in the press.
"It was one of the greatest challenges in my life because we made a choice which wasn't easy," Kaká says. "We spent a lot of time praying and walking closely with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was a great challenge, but it was really good to have waited. Sex is a great blessing from God for the pleasure of both husband and wife after marriage, and it is not the trivial or casual thing it has become nowadays."
He is also servant-hearted and generous in giving to his home church in Brazil, serving as a United Nations Ambassador Against Hunger, and he hopes to be a pastor after he retires from soccer.
As Kaká continues to pursue new goals, there is little doubt that he is all about Jesus.
"I believe that pursuing excellence with the skills God has given me brings honor to Him. God doesn't want 'lukewarm' from His followers; He wants our best."
Jeremy V. Jones' biography of Kaká, Toward the Goal: The Kaká Story, released this spring by Zonderkidz