Ryan Mason, who retired from football due to a fractured skull, says players are guilty of being too “brave” over head injuries and called for a change in perception on concussion in the game.
Wolves striker Raul Jimenez was stretchered off following a clash of heads with Arsenal defender David Luiz and has since had an operation on a fractured skull.
But the decision to allow Luiz to play on with blood seeping from his head bandage has been questioned.
Brain injury association charity Headway released a statement on Monday expressing its “anger and disappointment at football’s continued failings to protect its players from concussion” and reiterated its view that temporary concussion substitutes are “urgently” needed.
Mason was forced to retire at just 26 after fracturing his skull in a clash of heads with Gary Cahill during a match between Hull and Chelsea in January 2017.
Now working as a coach at Tottenham, Mason told Sky Sports News: “The brain is so complex. A lot of the stuff that goes on you can’t see.
“We live in a world with men wanting to be brave. Not many will stand up and say ‘I don’t feel right here’. That’s the industry football is and we’re probably still a little bit guilty of that if I’m being perfectly honest. I was very close to losing my life on a football pitch to an incident that was very similar.
“I’ve spoken to many people over the last three and a half years and raised my concerns but nothing changed. The perception of that type of challenge hasn’t changed. The protocol for concussion hasn’t really changed a great deal. What is it going to take for us to take these types of challenges and injuries seriously.”
‘Don’t stop heading but penalise dangerous challenges’
Mason insists the perception of dangerous aerial challenges compared to dangerous tackles on the ground needs to change to reduce the amount of potentially serious injuries.
“[David Luiz’s challenge] was late and it was from behind. If on the floor with a knee or ankle it would be a yellow card. This type of challenge is viewed as an honest attempt, which this one was.
“I think it was honest but I do believe we have a responsibility as professionals to punish dangerous play. Until this type of challenge is viewed as dangerous play then I think we’ll keep getting these injuries. My long term vision is we change the perception of this type of injury. I don’t want heading to stop.
“Majority of tackles are honest. I’m not saying for one second Luiz meant to do that, absolutely not. I just think when you’re going at that speed. With the feet at that speed you know you could get cautioned or sent off but it doesn’t come into the mind of people when it’s with the head.”
Are concussion protocols fit for purpose?
Luke Griggs, deputy chief executive of brain injury association charity Headway, told Sky Sports News football needs to ‘move with the times’ and introduce temporary concussion substitutions.
“When you have such serious impacts such as that, it’s hard not to suspect a concussion may have occurred,” Griggs said.
“The protocols say, if a concussion is suspected then the player should be removed from the field of play.
“The medical teams I’m sure did thing in the best interest of the player but you’ve really got to question whether these concussion protocols are fit for purpose.
“Concussion is notoriously difficult to diagnose, particularly in a pressure environment on the pitch in just three minutes. It’s an evolving injury and the symptoms can take some time to present themselves.
“We’ve been calling for football to finally move with the times and introduce temporary concussion substitutes which would allow for more detailed assessments of a player, off the pitch.
“We’ve got to make sure the message is out there that we’re not taking a chance on these things.”
Goodman: I hope Jimenez injury is similar to mine
Former Wolves striker Don Goodman knows all too well what it takes to recover from such an injury having sustained a fractured skull himself – also while playing for Wolves – back in 1996.
He hopes Jimenez’s injury is not career-threatening and will him to have a full recovery like he did.
“The incident itself was very similar to that between David Luiz and Raul Jimenez. I went for a near-post header from a corner and I was the one who instigated the contact unfortunately.
“I suffered a depressed fracture. If you imagine a ping-pong ball and you press it in and it stays indented that’s what my fracture was. The surgeon drilled four holes in my skull, lifted it out and that alleviated the pressure, and then it was all about the recovery after that and how strong the head recovered.
“From that perspective it’s the hope that Raul Jimenez has suffered something not too dissimilar because not that long ago we had Ryan Mason playing for Hull who suffered a career-ending fractured skull. There are different types of fracture and I’m hoping Raul has suffered the one that gives him the best chance of making a full recovery and playing again.”
Robertson: Wolves players will be affected
Liverpool defender Andy Robertson, who was at Hull when Mason suffered a fractured skull, says Jimenez’s team-mates will be affected by the striker’s injury and and also put his support behind the push for concussion substitutions.
“I know first hand how it can affect the Wolves players as well so my thoughts are with them and their manager. Obviously, I was involved in the Hull City-Chelsea game where Ryan Mason unfortunately got his bad injury which he never recovered from and I know how much it affected our squad as well as him and his family personally.
“My thoughts and prayers are with them first and foremost. Heading is a part of the game and unfortunately that was a horrible collision. But I think in terms of the protocols and everything that I have seen from my clubs, the doctors and the physios follow everything, and I am sure the Wolves physio and doctor done everything by the book and helped Raul straight away.
“David Luiz came off at half-time because of the cut on his head. Concussion subs would make sense. It is not a [normal] injury, getting concussion. But for me and the players it would make sense and hopefully that is something that can get brought in.”
Pep wants more clarity on concussion protocols
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has called for greater clarity over concussion protocols following the incident involving Luiz and Jimenez.
Speaking ahead of City’s Champions League game against FC Porto, Guardiola said: “Hopefully Raul Jimenez and David Luiz find they are well and I have heard that Raul Jimenez has had an operation so that hopefully has gone well.
“This is the most important thing because with head injuries you have to be careful. I don’t know the protocols, some of them say you have to be nearly out (unconscious), some of them say no so it should be clear.
“Because head injuries are so dangerous but hopefully they (Luiz and Jimenez) are doing well.”