Ronaldo Luis Nazario: Tragedy and Redemption
A World Cup final is a definitive moment in the life of a football player. It represents a form of eternal glory that can solidify or haunt their careers for the rest of their lives. The France ‘98 final was no exception.
On July 12, 1998, one of the most bizarre finals in the history of the game took place. A talent-loaded France was playing at home, ready to engage against Brazil, which had its own number of superstars, including the almighty Ronaldo Luis Nazario.
Brazil’s faith and the eyes of the world were fixed on the 21-year-old youngster after an impressive season with his new team, Inter Milan, and after scoring four goals during the tournament, making the Verde Amarela one of the favorites for the final.
Ronaldo was fit to play but, hours before the game, suffered a seizure. Despite his medical condition, Brazil decided to keep him in the starting lineup, giving into the pressure of the moment and, allegedly, the commercial constraint that his name represented for the sponsors.
Brazil was defeated by a remarkable French side. Zidane scored on two occasions and Petit sealed a painful loss for the South Americans with another goal. The young, talented Brazilian ended up wandering around the field like a shadow of himself.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding his medical condition were hotly debated and created an aura of enigma that would follow him for the rest of his career.
Ronaldo arrived on the scene as a teenager, winning World Player of the Year twice before the age of 21. In 1997, Inter paid a world-record fee for the youngster in a bid to compete for the Scudetto.
Inter tore through Serie A and the Brazilian was undefeatable. His quick pace and adept dribbling ability terrified even the most battle-hardened defenders.
The title came down to one match. Inter had the chance to overtake Juventus when the two met, but it wasn’t to be. The Old Lady came out on top and won the Scudetto. A disappointing end to a sensational season.
A Heartbreaking Quest
After France ‘98, Ronaldo returned to his club, but his injuries began to take their toll. In 2000, his career was hanging in the balance. He ruptured a knee tendon and was sidelined for almost a year.
He returned from injury in the Copa Italia final against Lazio but collapsed after mere minutes. The Brazilian star suffered a complete patellar tendon tear and people feared that he would never be able to play again.
Nazario’s health miraculously improved just in time for the 2002 World Cup and coach Scolari believed in him. It paid off. The Seleção, keen on redemption, defeated Germany and were crowned World Champions.
At 25, Ronaldo had lost a World Cup final and had suffered two major knee injuries, only to go on and win the World Cup and become the Golden Boot winner, scoring two goals in the final. All in a four-year span. If there’s a textbook definition of a comeback, this is it.
Ronaldo would never fully recover from his devastating injuries, but he was still good enough to convince both Real Madrid and AC Milan to pay for his services, becoming one of a select few to have played for Barcelona, Real Madrid, and both Milan clubs.
In his prime, Il Fenomeno was the best player in the world and his career brought magical moments to the world of football. Long live his legacy.
Illustration by @inakivector
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