Does football still need headlines?

It would be useless to predict exactly when it will come. From the point of view of now or here, it is impossible to define a specific point, a precise date, or even a broad time frame. All that can be said is that sooner or later it will come. The days of playing football are numbered.

The ball eventually rolls. The English Football Association has received permission from the IFAB, the secretive and slightly cryptic body that defines the Laws of the Game – always capital L, capital G – to run a challenge involving players under the age of 12. will not be allowed to hit the head in learning. If successful, the change could become permanent over the next two years.

This, of course, is not an attempt to impose an absolute ban on logging. It’s just an app to exclude an intentional headline – presumably as opposed to a random headline – from kids football.

Once players have reached adolescence, heading will still be gradually introduced into their skill repertoire, albeit in a limited fashion: as of 2020, the FA guidelines recommend that all players, including professionals, be subjected to a maximum of 10 high-impact hits. headlines per week in training. The title will not be officially retired.

And yet it will inevitably be an effect. Young players brought up without any knowledge and experience in heading are unlikely to pay much attention to it overnight, once it is allowed. They would have learned the game without him; there would be no real incentive to support it. The skill gradually becomes obsolete, and then drifts inexorably towards extinction.

From a health point of view, this would not be bad. Publicly, the FA’s line is that it wants a moratorium while further research is being done on the link between the title and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and dementia. Privately, he must, of course, admit that it is not difficult to discern the general direction of movement.

The connection between heading and both conditions has been the silent shame of football for at least two decades, if not longer. Jeff Astle, a former England striker, died of an industrial disease associated with re-heading a soccer ball, according to the coroner’s conclusion, back in 2002. It was posthumously established that he suffered from CTE.

Since then, five members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team have confirmed they have dementia, drawing attention to the problem. Only one of them survived, Bobby Charlton.

One 2019 study found that football players, with the exception of goalkeepers, were three and a half times more likely to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population. Two years later, a similar study found that defenders in particular had an even greater risk of developing dementia or a similar condition later in life. The more the subject is studied, the more likely it seems that minimizing the frequency of heading the ball is in their long-term interests.

In a sporting sense, it’s also easy to believe that the demise of a title won’t be a big loss. In the end, it seems that the game organically goes beyond it. percentage of goals scored falls due to the simultaneous rise of analytics, which, speaking extremely broadly, prevents the (air) intersection as an unlikely action, and the stylistic hegemony of the school of Pep Guardiola.

Difficult teams now do their best not to cross the ball; they certainly don’t lift it forward at every opportunity. They dominate possession or execute precise, surgical counterattacks, and overwhelmingly prefer to do so on the ground. Sports in general followed suit, moving closer and closer to Brian Clough’s rather clumsy principle that if God wanted football to be played in the clouds, there would be much more grass.

Of course, it is more than possible to watch an elite match – particularly in Spain, but in the Champions League, or the Premier League, or the Women’s Super League, or somewhere else – and trust that the spectacle will not be reduced or even markedly altered. , if the title was not only strictly prohibited, but actually not invented.

But this means ignoring the fact that football is defined not only by what happens, but also by what could happen and what would not happen. It is determined not only by presence, but also by absence. This applies to all sports, of course, but especially to football, the great game of scarcity.

For much of the same reasons that the crossing fell out of favor, the idea of ​​shooting from a distance also fell out of favor. Progressive coaches – either for aesthetic or algorithmic reasons – encourage their players to wait until they have an increased chance of scoring before actually shooting; as with headers, the number of goals scored from outside the penalty area also drops sharply.

However, this had unintended consequences. A team that knows its opponent really doesn’t want to shoot from a distance has no incentive to break the defensive line. There is no need to cover a linebacker with the ball at his feet 25 yards from goal. They are not going to shoot, because the chances of scoring are low.

And yet, if you do not shoot, the chances of finding a high chance also decrease. The protective line does not break, so there is no break – a small oversight, a channel that opens briefly at the moment of transition from one state to another – does not occur. Instead, the defense can burrow into their trench, challenging the offense to score the perfect goal. Decreased not only the act of scoring from a distance, but also the threat of this.

The same can be said for untitled football. It’s not just that the way corners and free kicks are defended will be changed beyond recognition – there will no longer be as many people crowded into or around the box as possible – but also how full-backs treat wingers, in the positions they occupy lines of defense. field, the whole structure of the game.

These changes in the sense of football as a sports spectacle are unlikely to be positive. Now players may not be heading as often as they used to, but they know they may have to head as often as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They cannot discount it, so they have to behave in a way that counteracts it. The threat itself has value. Football is still defined by all the crosses that don’t come.

Removing this – either by decree or lost habit – will remove the ability from the game. This would reduce the theoretical possibilities of the attacking team and thus make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. This will tip the balance in favor of those who seek to destroy rather than those who seek to create. Clough didn’t quite understand. Football has always been a sport not only of the earth, but also of the air.

If it is found that the title – which seems likely – endangers the health of the players in the long run, of course, then this will have to be changed, and it will be the right thing to do. No spectacle is worth such a terrible cost to those who put on it. Profits will exceed losses by a million times. But this is not the same as saying that nothing will be lost.

The end for Spain always leads to the beginning. It was just a couple of weeks before the start of the European Championships when Jennifer Hermoso, the country’s most trusted source of information, was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury. Just a couple of days before it all started, Spain lost Alexia Putellas, the best player in the game.

These are the extenuating circumstances under which Spain’s Euro 2022 campaign will – and should – be judged when it emerges from the quarter-finals on Wednesday night to host England, somewhere in the region of a nominal finish for a country lacking a top two. players. Regret for what could have been should outweigh disappointment for what happened.

The reward for success in this tournament, as well as the garlands, trophies and all, will likely take the form of some serious pressure at next year’s World Championships; Next week’s winning country is expected to meet and possibly overcome the challenge posed by the United States and Canada, the ruling powers of the game.

At least Spain will be spared this. And yet he should not be discounted: despite his narrowed horizons, he ended up ousting England from the tournament he is hosting in just six minutes. If Hermoso is in shape this time next year – or if Amayur Sariegi blossoms so that Hermoso’s presence is not missed – and Putellas in particular recovers in time, it is not particularly difficult to imagine a world in which this week was not the end. generally

In 30 seconds, according to the most conservative estimates, the Netherlands could fly out of the European Championship three times. If Daphne van Domselaer, the Dutch goalkeeper, had reacted incomparably slower; if Ramona Bachmann from Switzerland had made a slightly different choice; if the ball rolled like this and not otherwise, the Netherlands, the defending champion, could fall.

The temptation in any major tournament is to study potential opponents in search of some larger theme, some kind of extended narrative. As a rule, tides and currents are most noticeable immediately below the surface.

Same with Euro 2022. It will be won by one of the recognized forces of the game – England, France, Sweden or Germany – and claims the primacy among the elite of the continent, at least for a while. More important, however, may be what happens underneath them. Belgium and Austria, representatives of the second tier, advanced to the quarterfinals. Although it ultimately ended in failure, there was a moment when there was a real possibility that Switzerland could join them.

It looks like the hallmark of this tournament, more than anything else. The fact that the level of the best teams in Europe with extensive investment and industrial development programs is growing rapidly has been well known and documented.

The fact that the middle class on the continent is expanding is easier to overlook, but no less important. Women’s football, like men’s football, should not be the preserve of densely populated and wealthy countries. The strength in these matters always comes from the depths. It’s not just about how high the elite can climb, which makes games interesting and in tournaments attractive, but also how difficult the challenges they face along the way.

Old but good Alphonse Sola This week. “Have you ever thought about just calling it football and stop pretending it’s football?” he wrote despite (or perhaps because of) five years of living in New Jersey. “We all know that calling it football is kind of a weird situation that exists in the United States, right?”

Yes and no, Alphonse. In England, for example, there is the venerable World Soccer magazine. Many people start their Saturdays by watching a show called Soccer AM. If they choose to do so, they can then follow all the activities of the day on a program called Soccer Saturday.

I often wonder if their hosts are told as often as I am that the term “football” is an American abomination. Or, for that matter, someone like Matt Busby, the legendary Manchester United manager, was met with uproar and fury when he had the audacity to title his autobiography Football at the Top.

Forgive me if we are following a familiar path, but as far as I know “soccer” and “soccer” were pretty much interchangeable in England until some unspecified point in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. I’m not sure exactly what changed that made people so angry over one of those words, but I’m guessing it has something to do with Americans’ increased focus on sports.

Be that as it may, the furore about this has always seemed strange to me (especially when we are much more annoyed by the fact that this word is not “furor”, as they say in America, but “furor”). Did you know that the Italians call it calcio, like the one found in milk? It doesn’t even make any sense.