Lack of protocol to blame in head injury row, not AVB

Head case: France captain Hugo Lloris catches the ball during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, south of Paris, on Monday
Head case: France captain Hugo Lloris catches the ball during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, south of Paris, on Monday

Scandalous and patronising are the words that spring to mind when examining the outcry to the latest controversy to hit the world of sport.

Though I sincerely sympathise with any sportsman, or the family of an athlete, who has suffered long-term affliction or trauma from an injury sustained during their career, I found it disturbingly condescending of a predatory pack of national journalists to question the professionalism of Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas and his experienced medical team.

Highly respected experts in their respective fields, club doctor Shabaaz Mughal and physio Geoff Scott - who were instrumental in saving the life of Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch at White Hart Lane in March 2012 - were among those condemned for the saga surrounding goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his concussed state against Everton.

While the incident has helped proliferate healthy debate and research on the subject of head injuries in British sport, the invective criticism seemed belittling, derogatory and opprobrious of AVB’s character with brain injury charity Headway claiming the Spurs boss conveyed an “irresponsible and cavalier attitude”. For what it’s worth, Villas-Boas withdrew Lloris from the starting XI for the defeat at home to Newcastle United the following week.

Instead of making the individual the latest pariah in an outlandish attempt to manufacture new stories, it’s imperative to address the protocol of FIFA and the Premier League, or absence of one, surrounding such circumstances. Until we have the exact information as to what went on you can’t cast aspersions on any individuals.

It’s clear that there’s still a grey cloud hovering over the subject of concussion, and it’s been loitering precariously for some time. On February 20th, 1993, with the Clarets competing in the old Second Division, John Pender suffered concussion following a clash of heads and swallowed his tongue in a 2-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle at Home Park. Pender provisionally went off for treatment but returned to the pitch to continue moments later.

Then there was the incident involving Glen Little on March 2nd, 2002, when a mid-air collision with Norwich City’s Darren Kenton knocked the winger unconscious and led to eight minutes of treatment on the pitch before he was hospitalised.

Little consequently missed a 1-0 defeat away to Walsall and a 2-0 win away at Stockport County in the aftermath due to a statutory ruling enforced by the Football League. He returned when replacing Paul Weller as a substitute in a 2-1 triumph over Preston North End at Turf Moor.

The Lloris incident, among others, and the inconsistency of past incidents simply epitomises the absence of a monolithic ruling; there’s a distinct lack of clarity. FA guidelines and medical regulations on head injuries states: “All clubs shall ensure that any player having left the field of play with a head injury shall not be allowed to resume playing or training without the clearance of a qualified medical practitioner.” Well the French international goalkeeper was assessed and cleared to continue, so if that causes uproar then may be those guidelines need to be analysed and reviewed. Sport needs to remove the player and coach from having to make such critical decisions.

It may be the case that Villas-Boas has become the scapegoat for his involvement in the past. While assistant coach at Stamford Bridge, in a similar incident, goalkeeper Petr Cech sustained a depressed skull fracture in a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt in October 2006. Cech, who missed three months as a precaution, has worn protective headgear in matches ever since.

But on this occasion he clearly backed the judgement of his player and his staff. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just as there was nothing wrong with the medical team that passed Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczesny fit to resume after he required lengthy treatment following a clash of heads with Manchester United’s Phil Jones. On the other side of the coin, United boss David Moyes pulled his captain Nemanja Vidic off at the interval once he was caught in the head by team-mate David de Gea as he punched the ball clear. With no set protocol in place, managers have nothing to follow but their own and their staffs judgement.

The sporting world is wising up on head injuries, and football has to follow suit. Two months ago the NFL agreed a £477 million settlement with up to 4,500 former players who had accused the organisation of misleading them on the dangers of head injuries. England’s leading bodies won’t want a similar headache.

Now rugby has taken a huge step towards raising awareness. The IRB has taken concussion seriously, setting up a protocol two seasons ago which required a player who had suffered a head injury to go off the field for a five-minute assessment; not for concussion to be diagnosed, because that would require far longer, but to gauge whether it might be a possibility. Any suspicion and the player should not return to the field.

And in the “Live Room” at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, doctors and neurosurgeons led a forum to further educate and manage concussions in professional rugby in England. On the day that Barry O’Driscoll addressed the Professional Rugby Concussion forum, Labour MP Chris Bryant, a rugby player himself, called for an urgent debate in parliament on concussion in sport. Things are moving and football needs to follow a similar directive.

Like its more aggressive and combative sibling, football could look towards introducing mandatory five minute PSCAs as well as blood replacements to take those players with potential head injuries or concussion out of the firing line to be examined, while the team in question won’t have to suffer the disadvantage of being a man light.

Concussion is a serious issue, and one not to be taken lightly. But let’s not over hype the recent occurrence in a bid to alienate and venomously attack an individual. After all, boxers only have 10 seconds to get back to their feet after taking numerous head shots and I don’t hear anybody vociferously criticising the medical and coaching teams in the corners or the officials for allowing the continuation of those bouts. The furore requires a dash of perspective.

The concerns in rugby are understandable due to its more physical nature and the fact it’s a contact sport. But why the sudden opposition to the Lloris saga? While I agree the topic and the guidelines need addressing, he’s certainly not the first professional to suffer a knock to the head and play on, and he won’t be the last. As it was, Lloris was pushed back in to action by French coach Didier Deschamp’s for his nation’s World Cup play-off first leg clash in the Ukraine last week. Crisis over!

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