Thursday 26 April 2018

'Concussion rule' isn't perfect - but it's a start

Outside The Box with Aidan O'Hara

Christoph Kramer is helped from the pitch after suffering a concussion during the World Cup final against Argentina. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Christoph Kramer is helped from the pitch after suffering a concussion during the World Cup final against Argentina. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Midway through the first half of an U-10s semi-final, I jumped for a header and was met by a challenge that could charitably be described as late. Seconds after my opponent's head smacked into mine, I lay on the ground with blood pumping from my nose.

Under normal circumstances, it's something that you'd never forget but, in my case, it's something I'll probably never remember.

Around 10 minutes later, with cotton wool packed into both nostrils, I'm told a pass came my way and I struck the ball into the net with my left foot to put my team 1-0 up before the other team equalised.

"What's the score?" I asked my team-mate as we left the pitch at half-time. "One all Aido," came the slightly puzzled reply. "Who scored for us?"

Even a child could spot that this wasn't right, so he alerted the manager, an ambulance was called and, later that afternoon, I woke up in Temple Street hospital with a cracked nose and no memory of the previous four hours including, quite irritatingly, no recollection of what may be the only goal I ever scored with my left foot.

That a 10-year-old could already be hard-wired to react properly to a football while at the same time having no idea what day it is should give a slight indication of how difficult it can be to spot concussion in a professional sportsperson with years of training behind them.

Last week, FIFA proposed a three-minute stoppage in play if any player is suspected of sustaining a concussion, a measure which is likely to be adopted immediately once it is ratified.


"Under the proposal, whenever a suspected incident of concussion occurs, the referee will have the ability to stop the game for three minutes, allowing the relevant team doctor to complete an on-pitch assessment and decide if the player has suspected concussion," read the statement.

"The referee will only allow the injured party to continue playing with the authorisation of the team doctor, who will have the final decision."

Most research suggests that it's impossible to diagnose concussion within three minutes - even if the multitude of non-medically trained Twitter doctors can spot it in seconds - but, at least, it takes a degree of pressure away from medics with thousands of eyes trained on them.

In rugby or American football, a player can be replaced, assessed and then return if the tests prove negative but, leaving aside whether this is a sufficient time period (and, again, research suggests it isn't), the key point is that the game is goes on without that player.

In the absence of a "concussion sub" in football, it's crucial that the game is stopped rather than the current scenario of taking a player to the side of the pitch for assessment.

It's possible for people to break noses, cheekbones or get a whack on the head without being concussed because, if it wasn't, every boxing match would last the length of time it took for the first punch to land. Yet every player wants to get back on the pitch when his team are playing on without him, just as every manager wants to have every player on the pitch so they don't lose a goal because they are a man down.

A three-minute stoppage isn't perfect but at least it's a start of a practical solution which doesn't punish a team for having an injured player.

After 17 minutes and 10 seconds of the World Cup final, two of Germany's medics reached Christoph Kramer, who was lying in the Argentina penalty area after his head collided with Ezequiel Garay's shoulder seconds earlier.

Within 30 seconds, he was walking along with sideline and, by 18 minutes and four seconds, the game had re-started and Kramer was back on the field. From assessment to return, the total time was 54 seconds. Fifteen minutes later, the player was being helped from the field by the same two medics.

Had he, rather than Toni Kroos, headed the ball back towards his own goal and give Gonzalo Higuain a golden chance to score, perhaps somebody might have noticed something was wrong. Instead, it was only when the referee alerted Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger to Kramer's strange questions that anybody realised the seriousness of the situation.

"Shortly after he'd been struck by Garay, Kramer came to me, asking 'ref, is this the final?'," revealed Nicola Rizzoli. "I thought he was joking so I asked him to repeat the question, and he said: 'I need to know if this is really the final.' After I said 'yes', he was a bit stunned and said: 'Thanks, that's important to know'."

On a German comedy show last Saturday, three of Kramer's team-mates recalled the final, although it's difficult to judge how serious they were given Kramer has no memory of the game to refute anything they said.

"He came to me and said 'Manu, let me play as the goalkeeper'," revealed Manuel Neuer; "When he wanted to trade shirts with the ref I thought 'it's enough now," said Phillip Lahm; "He called me "Gerd" and congratulated me on the final in '74," added Thomas Muller to much laughter from the audience and Kramer himself in studio.

Football being a professional sport, there may be some attempt to exploit any three-minute stoppage to break momentum or a referee who is criticised for being brave enough to delay a game and ask a doctor rather than a manager if a player should be replaced.

Neither is perfect but three minutes rather than 54 seconds might be the difference between a player being replaced or unwittingly putting himself in serious danger by returning to the pitch.

From World Cup finals in the Maracana to U-10 matches in Killester, the least the players deserve is something that, if circumstances turn out differently, might not be so funny.


Tweets of the week


Ben Foster (@BenFoster): Hi lovely people of Twitter!! Is there any app that can instantly tell me any delays/traffic on my usual route into work in the morning????? - The West Brom goalkeeper received some predictable responses, mostly involving listening to the radio.


Joey Barton (Joey7Barton): Balotelli? He is the biggest myth in World football the fella. Fair play to him he's had everyones trolleys down... - The Scouser not happy with Liverpool's Italian striker. Although this was prior to him scoring two penalties in the marathon shoot-out.


Jonjo Shelvey (@shelveyJ): Written in the stars - The Swansea midfielder gets a little carried away with his team's victory - and his goal - in beating his former club Liverpool's fiercest rivals, Everton.


Lukas Podolski (@Podolski10): Take on each day & challenge with a smile. Ice bath recovery with Sanchez! It's a bit 'Chile' in here - The Arsenal man's (below) time on the bench has been well spent coming up with gags.


Anthony Pilkington (@Pilkington_11): Haha Simpson was lucky he nearly had his kecks down there. #ladiestee - The Ireland international is one of several players up early for the Ryder Cup - and like us was unimpressed by the American's drive.


Shane Long (@ShaneLong7): Big 3 points! Important for us to keep this run up! Now to watch Tipp lift the Liam McCarthy! #saints #HonTipp - You get the impression that the Ireland striker would have given back the three points for a blue and gold victory.


Darren O'Dea (odea_darren): An absolutely boring @rydercup !!! No drama! No suspense! Europe just on a different level. Butch trying to make it sound legendary!! - The former Ireland international, unlike the rest of the football and golf world, not getting carried away with the drama from Gleneagles.


The question nobody asked

What is the combined aggregate for the last 15 Merseyside derbies at Anfield?

Phil Jagielka's wonder strike earned a point for Everton at Anfield on Saturday. But it failed to stop the Toffees' miserable run on the other side of Stanley Park, which now stretches to 15 games without a win.

Last season's 4-0 victory for Liverpool was the biggest winning margin for that period, which was one of the seven games in which the blue side of Merseyside failed to score.

Overall, the scoreline lies at 22-7 in Liverpool's favour, which includes seven victories, seven draws and Everton's sole victory in 1999, courtesy of Kevin Campbell's winner.


The bet you should have done

Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea to win, 5/2 treble

It's rare that three of the league's bigger teams play at 3.00pm on Saturday and, with them available at relatively good prices, a treble which could more than treble your money wouldn't have been a bad way to pass the afternoon.

United had a few scares during their victory against West Ham, while City had similar issues in overcoming Hull. Chelsea, however, were the bedrock of the treble with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.

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