Injuries, head, legs, arms, knees, brain, long term, short term, medications, treatments, and luck.
Damian Duff - one of the lucky ones
Being a professional footballer means exposing yourself to increased long term risks not there for the general population, such as osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain diseases, bone disorders leaving you unable to go to the gym or even walk, multiple surgeries that mean your body is full of foreign objects and with vital bits removed, and so on. You might also end your career at a young age through injury and have to try and cope with getting employment with no real skills or education and a body that struggles to cope with work. Today I am going to ask why a profession that generates so much money, seems incapable of looking after the welfare of soccer players and, as a parent, should you encourage your child to play it at a professional level? Here is one piece of research:
“A study in 2019, led by a team at the University of Glasgow, compared the causes of death in a population of over 7,600 professional football players with those of 23,000 individuals from the general population. It showed:
Professional football players had a three-and-a-half times higher risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease) than we would expect.”
Can it ever change?
There was a young lad grew up near me called Damian Duff. I knew his family well. He went on to play professional football for Blackburn, Chelsea and others. He also had a strong international career with Ireland, gaining 100 caps. He seems to have had only one serious injury, towards the latter end of his profession when he was playing for Newcastle. He is now the manager of Shelbourne in Dublin and I suspect he was lucky that he had a longish time without too many injuries. He certainly looks fit, strong and fresh. He wasn’t noted as a header so he may not have the brain injuries that seem to be associated with heading the ball. I hope so, but footballers nowadays seem to have very little control over what happens in their lives.
Santi - Let's hope he doesn't have lifetime problems
The annoying thing for me is that it doesn’t have to be this way, but when prominent figures such as Steven Gerrard condone it, it is difficult to see how it can change. This is Gerrard talking about the aftermath of playing, in the wake of saying Bukayo Saka needs to understand that this is normal: “I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips,” said the former Liverpool captain. “I’ve had about 16 operations, I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment. That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick.” We get it Steven, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Really? You are a prominent figure in the world of football, a former Liverpool and England captain, but you think it is ok that nothing can be done to change things?
Players should be taken off after injury
We all watched Gabriel Jesus seemingly getting knocked out against Liverpool on Sunday after an elbow to the head. But surely he should have been taken off, at least as a precaution? It was very late in the game before Eddie Nketiah came on to replace him. It surely brings into question the role of doctors at the game? If a player gets a head injury surely it is best that they come off? The point is that the long-term welfare of the human being should be the first priority. I believe that the same logic should be applied to other injuries. If the doctor believes they MAY be injured, they should come off. They often play on for the rest of the game, but afterwards are out injured. It has to be better not to take risks with human beings lives. That time when they got hurt is when to take them off.
Diaby - I hope only good things for him
Why should a youngish man like Steven Gerrard at 42 not be able to go to the gym? Have we put the cart before the horse? The game comes first, the players second.
Enormous pressure to play
Roy Keane also said that when he was playing he didn’t have much time for those players who wouldn’t play through injury. He now believes he should have looked after his body better as he finished playing at 34. There is only one way to tackle this issue. Change the mentality that the club is the most important aspect and replace with one that puts humans first.
Rosicky- only played an average of 17 times a season for Arsenal
As I understand it, players feel under great pressure from the manager to play no matter what. Of course, the player themselves want to play as a time out injured means someone else gets your place and you may not get it back. What it means has been illustrated starkly by a fairly large scale survey posted in the British Medical Journal. 500 ex-footballers were asked questions about personal details, current medical status, reasons for retirement, perceptions of the provision and quality of support services, and use of prophylactic treatments while injured. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/36/1/33
Play, no matter what!
The results are depressing. It seems if you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis you continue to play but with steroid injections even if injured. Really? So the only thing that matters is that players play? I cannot imagine this being allowed in any other walk of life than sports. Players take painkillers and play, often injections, surgeries (Gerrard’s 16 is probably not untypical), and all sorts of treatments that are not normal for people their age. Because playing is the only thing that matters. Players felt, from the survey, that the care during playing and after playing was not what it should be.
Paul McGrath- struggled with life in football and after
Of course, after retirement there are very limited options for staying in football. Only a small few can be a manager, coach, scout or pundit for example. So they have to go out into the real world as an older person without a skill, and maybe harbouring an injury that makes finding and keeping a job difficult. And despite the perception that they make a fortune, they don’t in the lower leagues. They need a salary. Descending into a blur of alcohol, gambling and drugs is also common.
One good story
Back in the nineties, Graham Taylor, when manager of Aston Villa, allowed Paul McGrath not to train with the team, and just use a cycle machine and swim because his knees were bad. I have never heard of another situation when that happened. Paul McGrath can still walk at 62. I suspect without Taylor’s care, that would not be true. But surely that should not be the case?
Graham Taylor -one of the good guys
I started with Damian Duff, and I know that his parents deeply love their children but I wonder if these facts, which, in truth, I was not really aware of in the 90’s and probably they weren’t either, would have impacted their decision to let him go to Blackburn as a young kid? Kenny Dalglish came to their home and said he would look after him. But I don’t imagine he laid out all the extra injury lists that footballers have an increased risk from. Maybe there should be a written warning, like on cigarette packs and medicines, that playing professional football can seriously impact your health given to all young kids and their parents at the start? Otherwise you need to hope you are lucky. There should. Will it ever happen?