It doesn’t take a medical expert to understand that there should be little messing around when it comes to serious head injuries in football. For example, should a player be knocked unconscious after a clash of heads, it’s probably not best he continues playing.
Yet, for Newcastle’s Swiss international Fabian Schar, that very situation did happen over the weekend.
The central defender suffered a nasty clash of heads with Georgian defender Jemal Tabidze as both players challenged for the ball early in the first half, and the Premier League centre back was left visibly unconscious.
Thankfully, the players around Schar – from both teams, it should be added – were quick to rush to his aid. Opposition midfielder Jano Ananidze even went as far as to reach into Schar’s mouth to ensure the 27-year-old did not choke on his own tongue.
Luckily for the Newcastle defender, after some treatment from the Swiss medical team, he had regained consciousness and was looking in better shape.
However, he still admitted after the match that he couldn’t remember anything from the incident and was still feeling some residual effects of it.
“It looks awful, I can’t remember anything,” Schar told Swiss newspaper Blick.
“I was to for a few seconds. My skull is still humming. And I’ve got a neck ache and a bruise on my forehead.”
Despite all this, Schar was incredibly given the all clear by the Swiss medical staff and allowed to return to the field of play, finishing the entire match for his side – who won 2-0 in the end.
In a modern sporting world where people are all too aware of the serious dangers head injuries can cause, particularly concussion injuries and those from a loss of consciousness, it was frankly reckless to allow Schar back onto the field of play.
Unsurprisingly, the decision has led to a lot of criticism, with brain injury charity Headway even calling for a UEFA investigation into the matter.
However, the issue is endemic of a problem with modern football, that just simply seems to be behind the times in terms of combating head injuries and the associated risks and problems.
Rugby, a much more physical contact sport, has concussion substitutions and significant and thorough protocols that must be adhered to in regards to even a suspected concussion. Yet, football does not.
There are FIFA guidelines, but it appears as if these are mere suggestions rather than strictly enforced and adhered-to principles.
Schar’s injury is not the first case of football’s lax rules surrounding head injuries rearing its head at a top level either; and more scarily, likely won’t be the last.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia had its own head injury controversy when Moroccan international Nordin Amrabat suffered what appeared clearly to be a concussion after a very heavy collision between his head and the turf. Visibly dazed and unaware of what was going on around him, he was substituted in the match thankfully – but then returned to the field of play five days later, sporting nothing more than a rugby scrum cap (which, incidentally, he then removed during the game in frustration).
Football seems to have an endemic problem with combating serious head injuries and working out appropriate ways to ensure player safety is the upmost priority.
I don’t necessarily think it’s intentional negligence from the football governing bodies, but rather a lack of needed consideration on the matter. Fixing football head injury protocol is hardly a glamorous, headline-grabbing action – despite how important it actually is – and therefore FIFA and its executives are much more focused on commercially-driven, flashy issues such as expanding World Cups and reworking major tournaments.
Hopefully the level of outcry and attention the Schar incident has received will force through necessary change to protect the safety of players involved in football. However, if it doesn’t, then it’s a real worry what would actually need to happen for change to come about.
In Schar’s case, some crucial fast-thinking from his fellow players on the pitch and good luck meant he came out the other side of the nasty collision relatively unscathed, but that may not necessarily be the outcome next time round.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to something like that to see football fix its currently woeful head injury protocols.