HEAD START: Liverpool’s Andy Robertson challenges Tottenham’s Lucas Moura for a header. AFP Photo
As with just about every activity these days, because of COVID-19, pre-season football is that little bit different.
In years gone by, around this time we normally see the likes of Manchester United playing in front of packed stadiums in Asia, Liverpool touring the United States, and even Premier League teams travelling to the other side of the world on a money-spinning and brand awareness tour.
But this time around Liverpool are playing in Austria rather than Australia, Arsenal played games in Scotland, and United, for the most part, stayed at home.
For me, this is not really that big of a deal. Sure, it’s sad that so many overseas supporters, who live far from home, can’t see their teams play, but from a selfish, supporter’s point of view, a training camp an hour or so away is far better than a 24 hour flight for the players who, let’s face it, are there purely for PR reasons as opposed to football.
So the players, in theory, should be refreshed and ready for the new season which kicks-off in just two weeks’ time.
Speaking of player welfare, there is one potential major change to the game this season that has kind of slipped under the radar and strange as it may sound, it has nothing whatsoever to do with COVID-19.
Under new proposals, clubs in English football could be required to significantly adapt their training regimes after the game’s leading authorities agreed to new guidelines to limit the number of times players are allowed to head the ball.
The recommendations will restrict footballers to 10, what they call ‘higher-force’ headers a week in training. The reasoning behind this is because of the continued investigations into possible health risks associated with headers, which could in some cases, potentially include dementia.
While I obviously completely welcome any new regulations that will protect players’ health, I’m at a loss to understand how this will be managed and practically enforced.
Will players have to ‘keep count’ of the headers they make in training each week and stop when they hit 10? Will each club have to employ a ‘header counter’ or give a member of staff the responsibility to tot up the number of times footballs are headed each session?
When I was a kid playing football on any patch of grass I could find, I loved a good header. I have distant memories of my Dad throwing the ball as high as he could in our garden for me to get underneath and head it with all my might.
This then begs another big question.
Sure, professional players are the ones under the spotlight, but football is a game played by people of all levels and all ages.
Just pass a local park in Hà Nội on a weekend and you’ll see plenty of matches taking place – pre-social distancing of course.
So who will be checking off their headers? Who will be in schools monitoring how many times children should be heading the ball? And surely, compared to adults, that figure should be considerably less or indeed not at all.
I applaud the powers that be in bringing this discussion to the table, and offering solutions to sort things out. But those answers need to be thought through, long and hard, to make sure that everyone is safe, and not just those playing the game professionally. VNS