Over the last few years, the world has been left in shock at the number of retired footballers who have been diagnosed with dementia. In particular, there seems to be an especially large contingent of players from the same era, of the celebrated and adored Busby Babes, that have been affected.
Tragically, both of the Charlton brothers were diagnosed with dementia. So too was Ray Wilson and then Nobby Stiles. These players all played throughout the 1960s and the common denominator was that the ball they used was extremely heavy. In reality, it felt as if you were heeling a slab of concrete on wet days. Indeed, the biting Manchester cold, the persistent rain, and the sand from the pitches made heading these footballs very unpleasant but worse still, we now have the evidence that concludes that it was also extremely detrimental to the health of players.
The various studies of heading and the connection to dementia have been so overwhelming that the UK government has suggested that all types of heading should be banned in the Academies, whilst professionals should head the ball no more than ten times a week in training. Needless to say, the findings are extremely troubling and this is the starkest warning yet to the football world of the very real dangers of heading a football.
One of the other tragedies about these alarming results is that heading is such an integral part of football and you only need to do a quick Google to find pages upon pages dedicated to the best headers ever scored in the sport. This is to say that when you take heading out of the game, you take away one of the pivotal strategies of gameplay that teams use to succeed. Granted, one’s long-term health is far more important but, at the same time, football will lose a bit of its soul if heading is outlawed completely.
It is an art and perhaps even one of the reasons that Manchester United signed modern footballing legend Cristiano Ronaldo, in an attempt to win the league by scoring more goals from corners. Indeed, the 36-year-old has scored some of the most jaw-dropping headers in history even though it hasn’t done United much good in the most recent campaign, as they are still at a rather pitiful 16/1 in the latest outright betting markets to win the Premier League.
Thankfully, some of the Premier League ex-greats of yesteryear share concerns about the long-term impact of heading within the sport and have already started to back innovative technologies that may help to reduce the risk for future players. Increasingly, technologies are being used in many sports to prevent injury, improve accuracy and training, so this burgeoning software is one of many changing the game. The likes of Thierry Henry, Vincent Kompany, and Gary Neville have invested heavily in a virtual reality software called Rezzil’s Player 22.
In essence, this software will help players practice headers without having to do it physically for hours on end on a training ground. This naturally makes it a lot safer given that heading the ball will only be reserved for actual matches where a player can sometimes go the entire game without having to utilise this method. It really is groundbreaking technology and will become a must-have gadget for all Premier League teams in the future.
Indeed, thanks to Rezzil’s Player 22, football won’t lose the art of heading but it will become a great deal safer. It is unquestionably yet another great day for technology as it steps in and solves vital problems in football.