December 7, 2021

Can players reach the top without heading?

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Viv Anderson and Simon Francis question whether players can reach the top level without heading, amid renewed concerns over former players developing dementia.

Current players have expressed their support for the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) proposals to reduce heading in training, says the union’s assistant chief executive Simon Barker.

Nobby Stiles, a member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, became the latest high-profile former player to die after suffering with the disease last month.

Stiles’ former England team-mates Jack Charlton, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson also had dementia before they passed away, while Sir Bobby Charlton – Jack’s brother – was diagnosed recently.

James Milner goes up for a header in Liverpool training. 3:04
Premier League and Championship managers have their say as the PFA calls for heading to be restricted in training to reduce long-term health risks

Speaking to Sky Sports’ David Prutton, former England international Anderson insisted he cannot see heading being absent from the game completely.

Asked whether there will be a time where heading is not a part of football, Anderson said: “No. I don’t think so. I’ve got a 12 year old and I can’t see him not heading the ball either. But I watch his training sessions and they don’t head the ball anywhere near as much as we did, and in that respect, it’s more technical.

“Look at sides now, the Man Citys of this world, they don’t play with a big forward, it’s all to feet, and movement, but you still have to head the ball at set pieces. Getting rid of that is difficult to comprehend.

“You couldn’t have football without heading. It’s fundamental in the make-up of football. Set pieces are a big thing in football, how many times do teams win games on set pieces alone?”

Asked if a young player can reach the top without heading the ball, Anderson added: “No, absolutely not. But I think the style of play can definitely play.”

preview image 2:18
Iain Dowie, Paul Robinson, Clinton Morrison and Kris Boyd discuss the effects of heading the ball and concerns over links with dementia

Former Bournemouth defender Francis, who now runs a youth academy, believes the reduction in heading could have a positive impact on the style of play of young footballers, and ultimately help the game in England.

“The game has come on a lot, football has changed, and the style of play.

“For a footballing nation, it can only be a good thing to reduce the amount of heading we are doing in training, especially at a young age. If we can get the ball down, and get them to play that way, it’s certainly going to help in the long run.

“The evolution of football, playing conditions and the style of play has changed dramatically in this country. Hopefully it’s going to improve even more, like to a Spain or a Holland, we see the technical side of play in those countries more.”