Does football still need headers?
It would be pointless to predict exactly when it will come. From the current perspective, it is not possible to identify a specific point, or an exact date, or even a broad period of time. One can only say that it will come, sooner or later. The days in football are numbered.
The ball is rolling. England’s FA has been given permission by the IFAB, the mysterious and slightly arcane body that defines the laws of the game – capital L, capital G, always – to conduct a trial in which players under the age of 12 cannot be stopped. ball in training. If successful, the change could become permanent over the next two years.
This is not, of course, an attempt to impose an absolute ban on the title. This is simply an application to drive out intentional titling – presumably as opposed to accidental titling – from children’s football.
As players reach their teenage years, the heading is gradually added to their repertoire of skills, albeit in a limited way: from 2020, FA guidelines have recommended that all players, including professionals, should be exposed to a maximum of 10 high-force tackles. headers a week in training. The rubric would not be abolished, not officially.
And yet it would inevitably have an effect. Young players, brought up without any exposure or expertise, would likely not make it overnight if allowed. Without it, they would have learned the game; there is no real incentive to prefer it. The skill would gradually become obsolete and then drift inexorably towards extinction.
It wouldn’t be bad from a health point of view. The FA’s public stance is that it wants to impose a moratorium while further research is carried out into links between the rub and both chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and dementia. In private, he must surely admit that it is not difficult to distinguish the general direction of travel.
The association between the title and both conditions has been a silent shame in football for at least two decades, if not longer. Former England striker Jeff Astle died as early as 2002 from an industrial disease related to being repeatedly hit by a soccer ball, according to the coroner. He was posthumously found to have CTE
Five members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning side have since confirmed they are suffering from dementia, drawing attention to the issue. Only one of them, Bobby Charlton, survives.
One 2019 study found that soccer players (excluding goalkeepers) are three and a half times more likely to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population. Two years later, a similar study found that defenders in particular were at even greater risk of developing dementia or a similar condition later in life. The more research is done on the subject, the more likely it seems that minimizing the frequency with which players head the ball is in their long-term interests.
Head injuries and CTE in sports
The permanent damage caused by brain injuries to athletes can be devastating.
In a sporting sense, it is also easy to believe that the fading of the heading would not be a great loss. The game seems to organically move beyond that. The percentage of goals on target is falling thanks to the simultaneous rise of analytics – which, in the extreme, discourages (aerial) crossing as a low-probability activity – and the stylistic hegemony of the Pep Guardiola school.
Complex teams now do their best not to overrun the ball; they certainly don’t bring it up at every opportunity. They dominate possession or launch precise surgical counter-attacks and prefer to do the majority of it on the ground. The sport as a whole has followed in their wake, increasingly following Brian Clough’s rather lame maxim that if God wanted football to be played in the clouds, there would be significantly more grass up there.
It is certainly more than possible to watch an elite game — especially in Spain, but also in the Champions League or the Premier League or the Women’s Super League or wherever — and believe that the spectacle will not diminish or even change significantly. , when the title is not only strictly forbidden, but actually made up.
But that is to ignore the fact that football is defined not only by what happens, but by what could have happened and what didn’t. It is determined not only by presence, but also by absence. This is true of all sports, of course, but it is especially true of football, the game of great disadvantage.
For almost the same reasons that overshooting has fallen out of favor, so has the long-shot idea. Progressive coaches—whether for aesthetic or algorithmic reasons—encourage their players to wait until they have a better chance of scoring before actually shooting; as with headed goals, the number from outside the box also drops sharply.
However, this has had an unintended consequence. A team that knows its opponent really doesn’t want to shoot from distance has no motivation to break its defensive line. There is no pressing need to close down the midfielder when the ball is 25 yards from goal. They are not going to shoot because the chances of scoring are low.
And yet, if you don’t take a picture, the chances of finding it will also decrease. The protective line does not break, so there is no gap — a slight misstep, a channel that opens briefly at the moment of transition from one state to another. Instead, the defense can dig into its own trench, challenging the offense to score a perfect goal. Not only is scoring from range reduced, but so is the threat of it.
The same would apply to football, which has no title. It’s not just that the way corners and free-kicks are defended will change beyond recognition – no more pushing as many bodies into or near the box as possible – but also the way full-backs deal with wide players, the positions of the defensive lines. the field, the whole structure of the game.
These changes in terms of football as a sporting spectacle are unlikely to be positive. Players today may not head the ball as much as they used to, but they know they need to head the ball as much as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They cannot discount it, so they must act to resist it. The threat itself has value. Football is still defined by all the crosses that don’t come.
Removing it – either by directive or out of habit – would eliminate the chance from the game. This would reduce the theoretical possibilities of the attacking team and in the process make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. This would tip the balance in favor of those who seek to destroy rather than those who seek to create. Clough didn’t quite have it right. Football has always been an air sport as much as a land sport.
If, as seems likely, the title is found to be a threat to the long-term health of players, of course, it needs to change, and it would be right to do so. No spectacle is worth such a terrible cost to those who offer it. The profit would outweigh the loss a million times over. But this is not the same as saying that nothing will be lost.
For Spain, the end always leads back to the beginning. The start of the European Championships was only a few weeks away when Jennifer Hermoso, the country’s most reliable source for the front line, was sidelined with a knee injury. Just a few days before it all started, Spain also lost the best player in the game, Alexia Putellas.
Those are the mitigating circumstances on which Spain’s campaign at Euro 2022 will – and should – be judged, heading into Wednesday night’s quarter-final against hosts England, where the country has achieved two of its best results. players. The regret of what might have been should outweigh the disappointment of what happened.
The prize for success in this tournament, as well as the garlands and the trophy, and the whole business will most likely take the form of considerable pressure at next year’s World Cup; next week’s triumphant nation should meet and possibly overcome the challenge posed by the US and Canada, the game’s reigning powers.
At least Spain can get away with it. Still, it shouldn’t be underestimated: despite its diminished horizons, it came within six minutes of England’s elimination from the tournament it hosts. Should Hermoso be fit this time next year – or Amaiur Sarriegi has flourished enough to miss Hermoso’s presence – and Putellas in particular should recover in time, it’s not too hard to imagine a world where this week didn’t end at all.
According to a conservative estimate, the Netherlands could have been eliminated from the European Championships three times within 30 seconds. If Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar had reacted infinitely slower; the Swiss Ramona Bachmann had made a slightly different choice; if the ball had rolled that way and not the other way, reigning champions Holland might have fallen.
At every major tournament, the temptation is to scrutinize the likely contenders in search of some broader theme, some overarching narrative. As a rule, tides and currents are most visible below the surface.
It is the same with Euro 2022. One of the game’s established powers will win it – England or France or Sweden or Germany – and claim first place among the continent’s elite, at least initially. But what might be more important is what’s going on underneath them. Second tier residents Belgium and Austria both made it to the quarterfinals. Although it ultimately ended in collapse, there was a moment when there seemed a real possibility that Switzerland might join them.
It feels like the calling card of this tournament more than anything else. That the level of Europe’s best teams, teams with a lot of investment and industrial development programs is screaming to the sky, is well telegraphed and amply documented.
That the continent’s middle class is expanding is easier to miss, but no less important. Women’s football – like men’s football – should not be the preserve of populous and wealthy countries. In these things, strength always comes from deep. It’s not just how high the elites can climb that makes the games entertaining and the tournaments so compelling, but the wide range of challenges they face along the way.
An oldie but a goodie Alphonse Sola this week. “Have you ever thought about just calling it football and stop pretending it’s football?” he wrote despite (or perhaps because of) his five years in New Jersey. “We all know that calling it football is some weird situation that exists in the US, right?”
Well, yes and no, Alfons. For example, in England there is a respectable magazine called World Soccer. Many people start their Saturdays by watching Soccer AM. If they so choose, they can follow the action throughout the day on Soccer Saturday.
I often wonder if their hosts are told as often as I am that the term football is an abomination to America. Or for that matter, did someone like legendary Manchester United manager Matt Busby capture the sound and the fury when he dared to call his autobiography “Soccer At The Top”.
Pardon me if we’re going down a familiar path, but as far as I know, “soccer” and “soccer” were largely interchangeable in England up until some vague point in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. I’m not sure what changed to make people so angry about one of those words, but I think it had something to do with America’s increased focus on sports.
Even so, the furor over it has always seemed odd to me (especially when we should be much aggravated by the fact that the word is not, as America believes, “furore,” but “furore”). Did you know the Italians call it calcium, like what you get in milk? It doesn’t even make sense.