World football’s concern with players’ health and the tragic memories of too many high-profile deaths since then would surely have prevented any player – however important – being put at the risk to which Ronaldo was submitted.
The issue has been revived by comments from Internazionale’s current club doctor. He has dug out and examined the reports compiled by predecessor Piero Volpi who had been assigned by Inter to keep an eye on their most valuable property during the finals. Volpi had collated the medical papers of events before and after Brazil’s 3-0 defeat by France in Saint-Denis.
Ronaldo has been upset at the revival of the controversy but, with a wider perspective, he may come to understand that he was put recklessly at risk that day by his own Brazilian confederation, which had ultimate responsibility for his health and wellbeing.
In summary, Ronaldo collapsed in his hotel room on the morning of what was due to be the biggest game in his career thus far. In his absence, less than two hours before kick-off, coach Mario Zagallo told Edmundo he would be leading the attack instead. That team line-up was published and distributed in the media areas.
Right at that moment Ronaldo arrived from hospital. With the agreement of FIFA, France manager Aime Jacquet and the match officials, he was reinstated in Brazil’s starting line-up. Zagallo has insisted that the decision was his and his alone and has denied widespread reports that he had done so under orders either from CBF president Ricardo Teixeira and/or from team sponsor Nike.
History tells its own tale of what happened next. Brazil lost 3-0 and Ronaldo played poorly, virtually anonymous on the pitch. The main blame, as is usual in such cases and particularly with Brazil, fell on Zagallo who was removed from his job, not for the first time after a World Cup.
Now the controversy has been revived by Inter medical adviser Bruno Caru who just happens to be a cardiologist.
Caru says that all Volpi’s documentation from the time tells him that Ronaldo had not suffered an epileptic fit, as had been claimed at the time. Instead, says Caru, he had suffered a potentially-fatal ‘cardiac incident’ which, having been misdiagnosed, led to him being given the wrong treatment.
Caru says: “Ronaldo had been in his hotel room watching a motor-racing grand prix on television but he had been resting in an awkward position which prompted a circulation and cardiac problem. Fortunately, when he started having convulsions, this alerted his room-mate, Roberto Carlos.
“The player underwent a series of tests at the hospital but, because the doctors were looking for something else, the electrocardiogram was overlooked. However this shows where the real problem lay.
“Ronaldo was given powerful medication which is used for epileptic incidents but is entirely wrong for heart problems. What he was given was similar to a strong sedative which explains why he had such a poor game. After the game, apparently, he was like a little child, almost incapable of standing up and maintaing his balance.”
Caru’s analysis has been refuted by Ronaldo, who retired from playing last year because of a thyroid condition which affected weight control and which was never detected by the medical staffs of any of the clubs for which he played.
The World Cup’s all-time leading scorer said: “I’m very sad that, 14 years later, opportunists are still trying to make headlines from the controversy of the 1998 World Cup. I’m content that everything possible was properly checked out at the time.”
That is the point. Ronaldo state of health was properly checked. But human error may then have cut in. In the circumstances maybe he should be grateful that all that was lost was a football match.
By Keir Radnedge