I watched the World Cup final in 1998 on television. I was pumped up, ready for a blazing finale to a hell of a tournament. Brazil were facing France and there were always going to be goals. In the build up to the match, Brazil’s star striker Ronaldo wasn’t named in the team. Rumours were going around about a seizure, but just before kick-off he appeared and proceeded to play a well below-par game. In fact, the whole team played a below-par game and it’s gone down in history as one of the great mysteries of the modern game.
Foul play was suspected and conspiracy theories abounded. The most likely explanation was an anaesthetic injection he was given the night before getting into a vein, which can often cause a seizure. The reason didn’t matter, the Brazil squad was shaken to its core and lost the final 3-0. The current world cup was time to redress the balance.
Brazil struggled to qualify. The top players play in Europe and didn’t make themselves available to play in the qualifying campaign, so something like 64 players forced their way into the final. Ronaldo had been injured throughout most of the previous four years and I remember many times searching the web to see how his recovery was going. At his peak (at the age of 20), he was the most breathtaking striker on the planet. He had pace, power, vision, mesmerising skills and a hunger for winning. Cut down in his prime it must have been hell for him as he went from one injury to the next, spending most of his time in the physiotherapist’s care.
But a couple of months before the finals he started to play for his Italian club Inter Milan again. He was a shadow of his former self at first but gradually started to play better and better. He’d get 20 minutes at the end of games and soon managed to score 2 goals and win a match for the team. His teammates, when faced with an open goal, would play him in just to boost his confidence. And while others were writing him off, I had this funny feeling that he was going to be the star of the world cup and make up for all those years he’d lost.
And so it was proved. Coming into the final he was scoring for fun, looking like his old self. His ability was not in question and although he missed a few good chances, he scored in almost every game. At the start of the competition, when chatting with friends about what might happen, I remarked that there would be no justice in the world if he didn’t score the winning goal for Brazil in the final. And I’ll be damned, that’s exactly what he did. It was a tense game but towards the end Germany weren’t in the game. Go here for a full match report, I’m sticking with Ronaldo in this article.
It’s not about football though. It’s about a man. A man who was the best at the thing he loved, cut down in his prime. He must have wondered if he’d ever be a contender again, never mind the best. But through blood, sweat and tears, he’s managed to come back and regain his crown – winning the world cup in the way he should have 4 years ago. And nobody can begrudge him that. All the fame, all the money, all the success he’ll achieve in his life will never come close to matching the sense of achievement and relief he’ll feel inside for what he’s spent the last four years working towards.