Last Sunday, at the end of Tottenham’s 0-0 draw with Everton, Romelu Lukaku’s knee – which, for the record, is just as big as the rest of his body – crashed into Hugo Lloris’ head. (Despite Andre Villas-Boas’ complaints and Roberto Martinez’s suspicious attempts to change the subject , the collision was almost certainly accidental.) Lloris was knocked out, Spurs medics rushed onto the field to treat him, second-string goalkeeper Brad Friedel prepared to enter the game…and then, somehow, Lloris recovered. He got up and played the final ten minutes, sealing his seventh clean sheet of the season. On the sidelines, Friedel started to chuckle – that French bastard is so frickin’ tough!
Villas-Boas insists that Lloris felt fine and that the Spurs medical team, the same doctors who saved Fabrice Muamba’s life, decided there was no reason he shouldn’t continue playing. FIFPRO, the world players’ union; the PFA; and even the House of Commons quickly denounced the episode, however, and on Thursday Labour MP Chris Bryant called for “an urgent debate as soon as possible on the dangers of concussion in sport.”
It turns out Lloris wasn’t concussed, though Tottenham’s coaching staff couldn’t possibly have known that during the game. Even if Lloris claimed he was well enough to play, AVB should have substituted him: players lie about injuries all the time, especially in the super-macho world of English football. The Premier League isn’t the NFL, where head-to-head collisions are both commonplace and an important part of the sport’s appeal. However, it’s almost inconceivable that American football’s “110-percent-never-give-an-inch rhetoric,” which has promoted both on-field recklessness and off-field harassment, doesn’t exist in Premier League dressing rooms.
All of this probably constitutes another of football’s Grand Problems, and thus another opportunity for football’s governing bodies to devise a Grand Solution. We’ve been here before: FIFA, for instance, seems to think that, by placing anti-racism slogans on warm-up bibs and requiring international captains to recite trite little messages before tournament games, it can singlehandedly end global discrimination. (FIFA would have better luck curbing discrimination in football stadiums if it stopped trying to save humanity and instead docked points or awarded World Cups to countries that aren’t Russia and Qatar.)
It’s possible that the English FA will respond to all the recent bad publicity with a new “respect the brain” campaign, a series of “Let’s Kick Reckless Machismo Out Of Football” billboards, and a seminar on concussions attended by all 20 Premier League managers. But as great as that would sound in a press release, it wouldn’t actually change anything. AVB and his ilk would listen, applaud, shake a few hands, and then return to the business of doing whatever it takes to win football matches.
This FA initiative would actually work: sending independent doctors to every Premier League game to assess head injuries and administer comprehensive concussion tests.
But here’s the thing: the FA is even more dysfunctional than FIFA. It’s run by men who know little about governing and even less about football. It’s one of the many reasons England hasn’t won an international tournament since 1966. It’s been on the wrong side of history more times than I can count.
In theory, the FA has enough legislative authority to protect players from brain injuries. But I seriously doubt it is disciplined enough to design and implement a policy change more rigorous than printing a few thousand Say No To Concussions t-shirts.