Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro says that it is long since time that football took head injuries more seriously. The Gunners boss ruled midfielder Lia Wälti out of this weekend’s game with Birmingham City after she went off with following a nasty clash of heads playing for Switzerland against Belgium on Tuesday night.
Jen Beattie missed last season’s Conti Cup Final with Chelsea having suffered a concussion seven days previous, while left-back Steph Catley was substituted during September’s WSL game away at West Ham United after getting a bang on the head. Speaking about Wälti, Montemurro told Arseblog News, “Lia Walti won’t make it from a concussion perspective, her six days finishes on Monday.” When pressed on whether football should do more to take head injuries seriously, Montemurro was unequivocal.
“I don’t think we need to make any more excuses or delays in action. We need to solve this ASAP. We have got other sports that are showing how it can be done. It’s an area where we just cannot play any games. We are talking head injuries and vitals and important parts of human life. I think we have enough data, enough examples and enough detailed scenarios where we can make some changes now. I believe the player should go off and there should be another one coming on and they should be checked thoroughly. I’m talking doing the right checking – whether that takes 15 minutes, half an hour, 40 minutes… to make sure everything is done.
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“I’m no medical expert but I think we are running the risk if we just do a couple of questions and have a look at them on the side of the pitch and then determine the level of concussion or head injury there is. I think they need to be taken off the pitch, I think they need to be thoroughly examined in a room and then the all-clear is given when we know exactly what is going on.
“The pressure of the situation, the pressure of the game, the pressure the medical staff are under, the pressure they are under from coaches to get them back on and so on, and so on… we cannot take those risks. The player must go off. We need to be able to have a replacement. If we deem to keep the player on, we keep the player on. If we take the player off after 20 minutes, we take them off after 20 minutes, but we can’t play any more games with this. We are talking about lives here.”
Montemurro says that he doesn’t specifically look at limiting heading in training sessions but he is open minded about doing so, “I haven’t made it a part of the design of our sessions. The only time we do a fair bit of heading is when we’re working on defending set pieces and defending the box. Have we done a lot of it in terms of a lot of repetition? No. It’s there but I haven’t consciously gone out and said ‘everyone’s only doing 10 headers today’. Is it something we have to look at? Absolutely. Is it something I need to consider going forward? Absolutely. Do we need to look at the technique in academies? It’s something we all need to look at and is something we may have to put in our design of sessions.”
Data gleaned by Opta suggested that heading is a less fundamental part of the women’s game than the men’s and Montemurro is not surprised by this, “We’re actually trying to get the ball on the deck and pass it around. At Arsenal, that’s our bread and butter. We are a passing team, we are a team that plays a certain brand of style and heading isn’t a fundamental part of what we do. Heading is still an important skill, it’s still an important part of the game, having good heading technique is crucial. That questions us to then look at the way we develop kids, the way we develop the heading technique. Is it a type of headgear? Is it a softer ball? Is it some just working on the technique without the ball? I don’t know if that’s possible. But I think there is enough data, enough information for us to to really assess something that I think is fundamentally important.”