‘Rivaldo has a problem’ led Spanish magazine Don Balon. ‘He plays in his own world, never bothers to look for the ball of his own accord and wastes opportunities with dumb errors’.
The flamboyant Brazilian did not agree declaring: “I consider Rivaldo to be the best player.” It was 1999 and the rest of the world was just about to respond overwhelmingly in the player’s favour. The Brazilian was right.
Hailing from the favelas of Recife it was his performances for Palmeiras in his homeland that eventually led to a move to Deportivo La Coruna. In a brief scintillating debut season in Spain, the then 25-year-old moved to Barcelona for £15m. A domestic double arrived in his first season in Catalonia. The next season, Rivaldo's star was set to rise even higher.
Heading into January 1999, just six League goals were registered to Rivaldo’s name. Back to back braces against Alaves and Athletic Bilbao at the turn of the year suggested his intent to improve. Improve he did. If the test was the Clasico then he passed, scoring in Barca's 3-0 win against Real Madrid. If it was the Catalan derby then he passed too, his double helped sink Espanyol 3-0 at the Nou Camp.
A couple of weeks later his hat-trick sunk Real Oviedo with the title steamrolling its way back to Barcelona for the second season running. Eighteen goals had been added to his tally since the turn of the year as he finished the season with 24 and the La Liga title.
Despite his goals, his magnetic ball control and his precise passing there was a nagging feeling that he'd been unable to perform on a truly big stage as Barcelona failed to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League. That stage would be set in the summer, enter the Copa America in Paraguay.
It didn't exactly begin as the ‘Rivaldo show’, though, as he only managed the one goal in the group stages, during the opening 7-0 demolition of Venezuela.
However, from the knockout stages, he sprang alive. Argentina were first to fall under his spell as the rangy attacking midfielder turned in a masterclass. Rivaldo first cancelled out Juan Pablo Sorin’s opener with a sublime left-footed free-kick – the goalkeeper was not even close, inspiring his team to a 2-1 win, before he netted in the 2-0 semi-final win over Mexico.
Uruguay were waiting in the final, but were not ready, as by half-time the Selecao were out of sight. First a flicked header from Rivaldo gave them the lead before he doubled that with his fifth goal of the tournament. A wonderful touch just outside the six-yard box removed the Uruguayan defence, whilst the chip finish that followed had shades of a future Lionel Messi to it.
Ronaldo added a third in the second half and Brazil were the champions of South America. Rivaldo was named player of the tournament and with five goals also shared the top scorer award with his teammate Ronaldo. If it was the tournament his La Liga form suggested he would have, then it was the final which edged him towards the Ballon d'Or.
Come the new season, come more Rivaldo goals. Before the millennium he had scored eight in La Liga and five in the Champions League. Once again the goals were coming in big games. One in the Clasico as Real Madrid and Barcelona played out an enthralling 2-2 draw and two a month previously as Espanyol were once again embarrassed 3-0 in the Derbi Barceloni.
Of 51 voters, 31 placed Rivaldo first. The rest of the competition evaporated as he racked up 219 points. David Beckham, who came second, could only boast 154 and Shevchenko in third just 54. It turned out that he did not have a problem after all, Rivaldo Vitor Borba Ferreira was the deserved winner of the 1999 Ballon d'Or.