Argentina defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano suffered a significant concussion in Wednesday night’s World Cup semi-final against Netherlands after clashing heads with Georginio Wijnaldum. Seconds after the collision, Mascherano stumbled in a daze, and looked like he was going to fall head first on to the grass, before he turned and fell down. It appeared for a second that Mascherano was going to be completely unconscious, but thanks to the help of the players around him and the medical staff, he slowly but surely regained his composure before being walked off the field.
Just minutes later, he was back on the field.
A similar incident happened earlier in the World Cup when Maxi Pereira suffered a knock to the head against England. This time, the Uruguay doctor on the sideline was adamant that Pereira wasn’t fit to continue playing. But the Uruguay defender remonstrated, and got his wish. He ended up playing the entire 90 minutes of the game.
In both instances, the players should have been substituted. Instead, the crowd applauded their “heart” for fighting to stay on the field.
We’ve seen in this World Cup the continuation of a pattern with international and European club soccer where concussions due to head injuries are not taken seriously enough by the authorities who run the game. This is in sharp contrast to the attitude exhibited on these matters in the United States both in soccer and in other competitive sports.
Last year we had an incident involving Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur during a Premier League match in England where he was severely hit, but refused to be substituted. The reaction by much of the English press and many Spurs fans to the incident was disturbing. Many media members lauded Lloris for playing on despite his injury, while the supporters of his club gave him a standing ovation after the match. But in fact, Lloris did have a serious head injury and he missed the following two matches. Following the Lloris incident, the idea of temporary substitutes playing was raised though no English governing body or league has taken action to make this possible.
As explained by ESPN World Cup soccer analyst Taylor Twellman, the concern is regarding the possibility of a second hit to a player who is concussed in the game. It’s the second hit that can cause extreme damage.
Unfortunately, the powers that be within FIFA and much of the media seem to ignore the issue. FIFA has failed to take a proactive approach to this issue. At this rate, it’s unfortunate but it may take a serious injury to a player before FIFA or top leagues around the world enact rules to deal with head injuries.
Previously as a league official with the North American Soccer League (NASL), the league took any indication of a head injury very seriously. At the NASL, we adopted a strict concussion policy, which was modeled after what Major League Soccer had already developed in the wake of several injuries. I have no hesitation in saying if Mascherano’s injury had occurred in the top two divisions of North American soccer, he would have been subbed out and whisked away to some place for observation and tests. Sure this is was a World Cup semifinal with hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world watching, but at some point common sense and player safety/health must be made a priority.