Ronaldo reveals what happened before the 1998 World Cup final
'I played and maybe I affected the whole team...'
The 1998 World Cup final was supposed to be the night when Ronaldo O Fenomeno cemented his status as one of football's all-time greats.
At just 21 years of age, he was already a world star having finished his debut season at Inter Milan with 34 goals to his name. His good form had continued into the summer with his national side, where Ronaldo scored four times to help Brazil to the final against hosts France. There, it seemed, the stage was set for him to fire his side, widely regarded as favourites, to glory.
It was not to be.
Ronaldo omitted from starting XI.
Though he ended up starting for Mario Zagallo's team at the Stade de France, Ronaldo's name had initially been missing from Brazil's team sheet when it was submitted to FIFA officials with little over an hour to go before the game started.
Unofficially, the striker was said to be suffering with an ankle injury picked up in the semi-final win over the Netherlands and had only been deemed fit enough for the bench. Edmundo, then of Fiorentina, was named in his place.
Half an hour later came a modified team sheet: Ronaldo was back in, Edmundo, understandably furious at the late change, demoted to the bench.
By then, there was a strong sense that something was awry inside the Brazil camp. Rumours that something had happened to Ronaldo in the hours leading up to the game started to swirl.
When both he and his teammates turned in a below-par performance on the night, losing 3-0, the sense that something significant had taken place grew stronger.
For years, the details of precisely what took place have remained shrouded in mystery, becoming the subject of several conspiracy theories.
Ronaldo's account of what happened before the final.
It was widely said that Ronaldo had suffered some form of convulsion on the day of the final. This was later confirmed, with the man himself giving his own version of events to FourFourTwo in 2020.
"I decided to get some rest after lunch and the last thing I remember was going to bed," Ronaldo explained.
"After that, I had a convulsion. I was surrounded by players and the late Dr Lidio Toledo was there.
"They didn't want to tell me what was going on.
"I asked if they could leave and go talk somewhere else because I wanted to sleep.
"Then (teammate) Leonardo asked me to go for a walk in the garden in the hotel where we were staying and explained the whole situation.
"I was told that I wouldn't play in the World Cup final."
Despite being told he was set to miss the game, subsequent medical exams showed there was nothing wrong. Armed with that, he informed Zagallo he would be starting the game after all.
"All the essential medical exams didn't show anything was abnormal - it was like nothing had happened. After that we went to the stadium with a message from Zagallo saying that I wouldn't play.
"I had test results in my hand - with Dr (Lidio) Toledo giving the green light.
"I approached Zagallo at the stadium and said: ‘I’m fine. I'm not feeling anything. Here are the test results, they’re fine. I want to play.’
"I didn't give him an alternative. He had no choice and accepted my decision."
Ronaldo went on to admit that the incident possibly had a negative impact on his teammates' performance against France, who claimed their first World Cup with two goals from Zinedine Zidane and another from Emmanuel Petit.
"I played and maybe I affected the whole team because that convulsion was certainly something very scary. It's not something you see every day.
"In any case, I had a duty to my country and I didn't want to miss it. I had my honour and felt that I could play. Obviously it wasn't one of the best matches in my career, but I was there to fulfil my role."
Conspiracy theories and an inquest.
After the game, Zagallo admitted he had contemplated taking Ronaldo off in the first half. Pressed on why he didn't, he stormed out of a post-match press conference.
A popular conspiracy theory later emerged that the decision was taken after Brazil had been pressured into playing Ronaldo by Nike. Ronaldo was the poster boy for Nike football and the sportswear giant also had a partnership with CBF, the Brazilian football federation.
Nike strongly denied suggestions they had influenced the decision to allow him to play and Zagallo, who lost his job after the World Cup, also refuted claims he had been ordered to play Ronaldo.
An inquest was launched in Brazil's national conference to determine what had taken place. It was established that Ronaldo had returned to his hotel room with Roberto Carlos after lunch and began to have a fit.
Edmundo, alerted by Roberto Carlos' calls for help, was one of the first on the scene, quickly followed - reports claimed - by defender Cesar Sampaio, who began to administer first aid and unravelled Ronaldo's tongue to prevent him from swallowing it. Ronaldo fell asleep after the convulsion ended, with Leonardo later insisting he was told about what had happened.
Following a series of tests, he was given the all-clear to play two and a half hours before kick-off.
Toledo, Brazil's doctor, was one of those to carry out the examination of Ronaldo. Speaking to the commission, he suggested he was powerless to stop him from playing. "Imagine if I stopped him playing and Brazil lost," he said. "At that moment I’d have to go and live on the North Pole."
Other theories were presented. Ronaldo's collapse could have been linked to painkillers he was prescribed for a slight knee injury, it was suggested. Brazil's medical team dismissed this, saying the medicine used was not strong enough to trigger a fit.
There is still, to this day, a feeling that there is more to this, that the exact truth has never been uncovered. For Ronaldo, however, there was a happy ending to the story. Four years later, he appeared in another World Cup final, scoring both goals for Brazil as they beat Germany in Tokyo.