The findings of a study into the long-term effects on the brain of heading footballs were published this week in the online journal Radiology. According to the report, footballers who head the ball with “high frequency” show piss-poor performance in memory tests, and have “brain abnormalities similar to those found in traumatic brain injury patients.”
It reminds me of a test they ran a few years back in which boffins sought to discover whether boxers suffered any adverse effects to being smacked in the head over and over. Or the old one about bears, crapping, and woods. Bare-faced stating the obvious is what it is.
The research was headed-up by one Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., who, from the cut of his jib, and the language he uses, has to be a Yank. He reckoned heading – which he usefully defined as the act “in which players field the soccer ball with their head” – is dangerous. His research found that players head the ball, “on average, six to 12 times during competitive games, where balls can travel at velocities of 50 miles per hour or more”. And though footballers no longer “field” a soccer ball made of a pig-bladder, made heavy by sheer weight of mud and shit (and indeed in the Premier League they appear to use super lightweight airflow balls much like the ones which blow away on the beach) Lipton still thought it was worthwhile spunking away time and money on this research.
After all, all you need to do is chip on up to Glasgow, where they’ve known all along that “persistent heading” can send you a bit west. Indeed, up there, they’ve for years used the term heid the baw as an endearing, sensitive way of saying you’re a bit of a ‘village idiot’ type, that there’s a strong likelihood you might shout at pigeons on the street, or you might be a little, ahem, unhinged, and fighty.
Anyway, sit down and have a brew and consider Lipton’s conclusion: “Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain. But repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells over time.”
On an entirely unrelated subject, the Wayne Rooney saga rumbles on. This week, an e-numbered-up new/old Rent Boy boss Jose Mourinho threw in his two-penneth on the matter of where United’s number 10 might ply his trade next season. And Arsene Wenger’s already expressed an interest in the player the tabloids love to term a ‘wantaway star’.
Wazza’d be mad to leave though, wouldn’t he? Roonbatshit crazy. And we’d miss him like mad, wouldn’t we?
Well, we’d miss the Rooney of 2009/10, when, after Ronaldo’s exit, Wazza found himself suddenly United’s main man again. And how he revelled in it. Midway through the season, Rooney had a remarkable run of goals. Sir Alex Ferguson observed that Rooney scores in spurts, in gluts, but even by Wazza’s standards, this was something else. And what was most remarkable was that nearly every one of these goals was scored with his head. We all knew Rooney was good with his head, but suddenly he was world class.
There was a spell in 2010 when Rooney scored with his head every week, usually from a pinpoint Valencia cross. And it wasn’t just on the domestic front. No, Rooney translated his form for the European stage, scoring two headers in United’s 3-2 win at the San Siro against AC Milan. Two weeks later, it was his header that won the Reds the League Cup at Wembley, against Aston Villa.
All those headers. Bears. Crapping. Woods. Brain abnormalities.
Anyway, I’ll say no more. If Rooney does go, then who would you replace him with? And no, Moyesy, signing the right-back Guillermo Varela, a 20-year-old Uruguayan, is not the answer. But how about Robert Lewandowski, who is now, apparently, according to his rentaquote agent, ‘definitely not going to Bayern’? There’s been hundreds of names linked, but nothing above the level of tabloid tittle-tattle to whet our appetites yet. Which is slightly worrying, seeing as though United have actually started to impress me with the speed and stealth of their transfer business over the past few years (we’ve certainly not seen any of the messes the club used to make – generally that falls to Spurs, or Liverpool now).
I’ll finish with a quick piece that caught my notice last week. Apparently, a Norwegian Eurojackpot lottery winner has jizzed some of his prize money on a quarter-share of a player from his local club in order that they – Odd Grenland – can maintain their status in the Norwegian top flight. The player in question is a defender named Fredrik Semb Berge.
Leaving aside any comparison with Carlos Tevez/ Kia Joorabchian and all that crap that came with part-ownership of a player for the moment, if you won the lottery what player would you buy for United? Would you buy a Rooney-replacement? Or would you part own Roon and keep him: send him for head-tests, and try and get him back to the player he once was?
Andrew J Kirby is the author of ‘Fergie’s Finest’ which was released this month. His sports writing has featured in BBC Sport magazine, and on the Radio Five Live website. Follow Andrew on Twitter.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.