So… let’s start because this is a long story. Yeah, it was very bad. It was very bad about how the things came out. So many stories. I’ve never had the courage to ask him what happened because it’s about respect. Respect the man, respect the idol, respect what happened. The episode with Ronaldo was not
the cause of Brazil’s defeat. However, we can’t deny that it was a scary situation. Our reaction after conceding the goals was close to zero. We couldn’t muster a reaction against France. This doesn’t take anything away from France’s achievement. They played extremely well. People forget to say that France played perfect football. They created four opportunities and scored from three of them. People say, “Brazil didn’t play that day.” We did, but France played better. We knew it would be hard when we went back to the dressing room at half-time losing the match. We thought it would be difficult. France were playing at home, leading the game, playing well and had home advantage. I was on the pitch during that final. I was waiting for the line-ups and then I was really surprised. When we got the teamsheet with Edmundo playing instead of Ronaldo, everyone panicked. We were trying to guess what had happened. We couldn’t use our mobiles – there was no reception. We tried to reach the players we knew better, the technical staff and no one answered. It was huge misinformation – everyone was surprised. Then we got the information that Ronaldo had arrived in the stadium and he would play. It was a troubled situation. Certainly, one
of the biggest surprises I ever experienced because the team was confirmed the day before. Ronaldo was going to play. He was the main player for Brazil. We talked about it. Everyone was there, Roberto Carlos was there. Ronaldo suffered a breakdown and spent some time away from the hotel. He then went directly to the dressing room in the stadium. His body was still aching and he wasn’t 100% ready for that match. It was a difficult situation. Not only for Ronaldo, but also for the coaching staff. What can we do? The player had a breakdown. He came back in time for the match and wanted to play. He said he was alright. It’s very complicated. That’s why I say that the atmosphere before the match was bad. In the 1998 final, I decided to get some rest after lunch and the last thing I remember was going to bed. 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 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. 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 are fine. I want to play.” I didn’t give him an alternative. He had no choice and accepted my decision. Then I played and maybe I affected the whole team because that convulsion certainly was 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. He could run 100 metres in 10.2 or 10.3 seconds. Usain Bolt did it in 9.8 seconds. And he wasn’t just fast. He had power and strength combined. When he came back to action on that fateful date – 12th April 2000 – he suffered a complete patellar tendon tear. Actually, his knee exploded. His patella ended up in the middle of his thigh, an injury considered extremely serious. The image is horrible… When we see his knee… His face is suffering with the pain. This period was hard because he was returning from knee surgery and thought he was ready to play again. And then he suffered an extremely serious injury – a complete patellar tendon tear. The new surgery was way more complicated. The prospect of making a recovery was uncertain back then. Everyone knows that. Much was said back then about whether he would be able to ever play again. After surgery, his knee was as big as a futsal ball. He was taking morphine in the hospital crying when he called me to his room. He asked: “Please tell me, mate: will I ever play football again?” “Don’t tell me lies. Will I ever be able to play football again?” We were just starting a recovery program and the whole world was saying that he wouldn’t return. Even science doubted whether he could – his doctors weren’t sure if he would… My world fell apart. I remember that eight months through the recovery process, I was still unable to bend my knee over 100 degrees. Then I travelled to the United States and a well known specialist said that there was no chance I would play football again. He recommended a new surgery to unblock my knee so I could bend it an extra 30 degrees. I returned to France and checked into a clinic in the south of the country in Capbreton – near Biarritz. I stayed there for three months doing some recovery sessions every morning, afternoon and sometimes even during the evening. I was constantly in a bad mood because I wasn’t able to play football. I couldn’t think of anything other than getting better. We didn’t care about that because we trusted the man. We trusted the medical staff. For what they said about him. He had something very powerful which a lot of people didn’t believe. He had the inner strength to overcome the bad situation. He used that power-strength to transform the situation in favour of him, to inspire him. We were on his side. We were together. I never thought he wouldn’t be able to play again. I knew he would have a hard time ahead of him, but he would come back. When Dr Gerard Saillant finished the surgery, we had a meeting with the Internazionale board. He mentioned that the only player he did a similar procedure with was the Portuguese player Paulo Futre, who didn’t return to play at the same high level. So Ronaldo broke an immense paradigm in science with regards to recovery after a serious injury like that – a complete patellar tendon tear. He came back at the highest level. The mental strength that he had to overcome all the barriers – maybe people don’t fully realise how painful it is just bending the leg. How much uncertainty surrounds the treatment, not knowing if it will heal properly. Would he be able to score again? All those questions made him mature. The only guarantee I had was that if I failed I would have to retire. I was chasing my opportunities. I never questioned my will to heal quickly. I never doubted I would do what was necessary to come back. But I doubted science. I doubted if there were actual treatments available to help me play again. I am not a doctor. I am not a physiotherapist. I haven’t studied that. So I learned from my injuries. And the reality was that this kind of procedure – with so many screws and leads – doesn’t match everyone’s vision of a footballer. In some ways it was practically a miracle. But I always hoped I could make it. If the World Cup were to start today, Scolari could count on all 23 players he chose in his first squad. That’s the kind of luck that the Brazilian coach hasn’t had since the 1990 World Cup. It was Big Phil’s personal choice. That’s one of his characteristics. He put faith in his players. He put faith in Ronaldo because he knew Ronaldo was different and one cannot leave a special player behind, even if he is not 100% ready. I remember one day during the qualifying campaign – we were at the hotel in Fortaleza, Ceará and Big Phil was playing tennis with another journalist. We were chatting amusingly with Big Phil. There was a military base nearby and some soldiers were running and marching around. When they passed by they were chanting, “Big Phil, call Romario! Big Phil, call Romario!” Everyone burst into laughter. There was huge pressure because the whole country wanted Romario in Selecao. And Big Phil said: “No, we won’t call Romario. We will call Ronaldo, Luizao and all the players that I want.” We could tell that Ronaldo was motivated. Big Phil knew how to manage the situation, all the egos in the dressing room. I think we could feel how prepared Ronaldo was. Not only him, but Rivaldo too because Big Phil put a lot of faith in him during the qualifying campaign. We could feel that those two players were prepared – and they ended up being the most important players during the tournament. All the pressure puts you on high alert automatically. You prepare yourself even more. We know how passionate the Brazilian fans are with regards to football and the national team. So we were motivated but the expectation from the fans made us prepare even better and play at our very limit. I am so grateful for the confidence Big Phil has shown in me. The natural choice would have been to call someone else. A player in better shape, playing constantly, but he placed a bet on me. Back then I told him I would do whatever it takes to be in his team. I would do whatever was necessary to be fit and pay him back during the World Cup. Nobody would say Brazil were favourites in 2002. However, we knew our potential. We qualified for the finals in our last round playing against Venezuela. It was 2-0 and Luizao scored twice. It was tough. We got there saying, “It’s in God’s hands.” Most people thought like that. When the World Cup started, the opening match was extremely important for giving me some confidence back. We were losing 1-0 to Turkey and when the second half started I got the ball from Rivaldo and the only chance I had to score was throwing myself towards the ball. That’s what I did. I’ve thrown myself, got the touch and scored the equaliser. It was a bit messy but it worked. I didn’t feel any pain and could play almost the entire match. The day after was the worst. I was in pain because I hadn’t played a full match for so long. But I felt confident again. Especially because the Turks were hard and aggressive. They’d beaten me during the whole match. We played them twice and both times were difficult. Brazil’s financial district was taken over by football. In reality, it was taken over by the love of football. Brazil has all the saints. San Marcos and San Ronaldo – he set the country on fire when he opened the scoring. Shortly after, the same Ronaldo scored again: 2-0. The path to the fifth title was clear. And so it was samba and party… We didn’t start the World Cup at our very best. However, we improved during the competition, especially after the quarter and semi-finals. We understood each other better. We believed in ourselves. The fact that we were a discredited team on our way to the World Cup, that people said that we wouldn’t even go further than the group stage then we saw that we could change that. We played very well and ended up winning the tournament in that fashion. Being part of a winning side is a great achievement in itself. In Ronaldo’s case, he was not only playing as part of the group, he was crucial for the title, especially because of his goals and his performances. That diagonal toe poke goal he scored against Turkey in the semi-final was a key moment in my memory because that was a very difficult match. This goal in the semi-final was extremely important. We weren’t playing well. I had a small muscular injury in my right thigh, in the adductor muscle. Maybe that’s the explanation for the toe poke. I was in pain and maybe my muscle wouldn’t have coped if I’d tried a kick with the laces or with the inside of the foot. Anyway, this kind of move comes from futsal – I played a lot of futsal during my childhood and I brought a lot of tricks from that time. Maybe the famous one was that toe poke because it was a goal in a World Cup semi-final. The game was really tight with the Germans. It’s so hard to play against them because they play the same way for the 90 minutes, 100 minutes if necessary. We knew it wouldn’t be easy in the final. They got a good chance; Ronaldo got a good chance before he scored. When he got another chance, he made it. This is what makes Ronaldo special because he kept on insisting on what he wants to achieve. He’s a natural for this job; it’s so natural for him. When he lifted the trophy, in that moment, I remember I was close to him. He went to kiss the trophy – we went together. It was an amazing moment. It’s a very proud moment for everyone. I was a little afraid of getting some sleep after lunch in 2002. I avoided that. I didn’t get any rest. I went after my colleagues to talk but everyone had the habit of getting some sleep after lunch, I could only find Dida awake and we were chatting for a while. He was very kind to me. He distracted me because every time I thought about the 1998 final, I remembered the convulsion episode. That was my biggest fear before the 2002 final. I stopped thinking about that when we were on our way to the stadium. I was very focused on the match and then we had that wonderful final – where we win the title. I could bury all the traumas I had in the past. I left the pitch five minutes before the end. When I got to the bench I hugged Rodrigo Paiva who was by my side during that journey. I started to cry and told him: “We did it. It was so hard but we won it.” How can you not support a guy like him? Ronaldo is a role model in terms of overcoming difficulties. His will and determination as an athlete shows that you can change history and overcome setbacks. I always say football was my university. I didn’t have time to go to college but football taught me more than any masters or doctorate. No course could have offered me what I’ve got from my life as a footballer. I will always be grateful to football and all it gave me and the person I’ve become. I didn’t know how strong I was until I suffered those injuries and then really needed to be strong. I think that football gave me so much more than I gave to football.