There was a long-standing debate in football that has reared its head again this week surrounding concussion in sport and the correct protocols to take.
Football by many is seen as a purists’ sport. Being reluctant to change in order to protect the ‘beautiful game’ has seen lengthy and heated discussions specifically around the technological side – VAR only being introduced into the Premier League next season when similar technologies have been used in other sports for years.
However, one area that needs to be changed immediately is the protocol when a player has a head injury and suspected concussion. On Tuesday night, Tottenham Hotspur played Ajax in the semi-finals of the Champions League. A game where stakes were high with Spurs already having an injury ravaged squad. Jan Vertonghen rises for a header but accidentally clashes heads within fellow teammate Toby Alderweireld, being left with a suspected broken nose with blood pouring from his face. Even though Vertonghen was assessed on the side-lines for signs of concussion for 5 minutes, he was then allowed back onto the field of play, before moments later worryingly collapsing on the side-lines.
Who had sanctioned the return to the field of play? Of course, the medical staff will be looking out for Vertonghen best interests however the underlying pressure to continue in the match from both Vertonghen’s desire and the fact Spurs were down to 10 men, coupled with the importance of the match and also how Spurs squad was already spread thin could have influenced the speediness of their decision.
This potential issue could be eradicated if temporary substitutes for suspected concussion were adopted by football as per many other sports protocols. Since the 2015 World Cup, Rugby union teams have been able to make a temporary substation for head injuries. The player who comes off is assessed and if they can’t come back on, that substitute becomes permanent – even if the team has already used all of its substitutes.
This allows the team with the suspected concussed player to maintain a full complement of players, ensure the contest remains even, taking the pressure off the medical professionals whose sole job should be to assess and protect players.
Even though I love football the way it is and am wary of too many rule changes, this is one rule that needs to alter immediately to ensure the welfare of all players.
Written by Andrew Prosser