Young departure highlights absence of Man Utd plan…

Date published: Friday 17th January 2020 2:43 - Ian Watson

Get your mails in over the weekend to…

Young exit
Only United could deplete the numbers of a squad that pretty much every football observer universally agrees is in dire need of additions. I’m not saying that Young should have stayed or anything but letting players leave should have been literally the last pieces of business to be completed during this transfer window. We’ve had 16 full days of the transfer window and so the only transfer that we’ve managed to make any progress on is the departure of our club captain. I mean, come on!

The fact that Young was our captain speaks volumes to begin with and, in many ways, I’m glad to see him go. He was emblematic of the problems at United; a hard working and professional but painfully average footballer, signed by a manager who retired nearly seven years ago, and who outlasted many more talented players who have since moved on to greener pastures. It’s not his fault that he was kept on at the club for so much longer than he ought to have been, nor that the club failed for so long to provide the managers with anything like an upgrade on him, but he does represent a long period of sustained ineptitude.

I don’t begrudge him the move and I don’t even really care if he went on strike; we know that Woodward has form for reneging on gentleman’s agreements (Evra, for example), so if that’s what he had to do to get his move then fair play. Hilariously, he, along with Lukaku and Sanchez, could all end up with league winners medals this year, while our lot will be struggling just to finish in the top four. So yeah, if he has the chance to actually win something and play regular football at Inter then best of luck to him and thanks for your service.

All the while, the club he is departing are proving, yet again, that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in the transfer department, and can’t even get the most simple of incoming deals over the line. Good times.
Ted, Manchester


Heading in a dangerous direction
First of all, I’m not convinced there is empirical evidence that says heading the football is more likely to cause dementia. There is evidence that ex professional footballers are at more risk of dementia, and while I agree it’s a logical assumption to make that headers will be part of that, it’s not been really tested (because it is almost impossible to test). That being said, I’m not going to argue that bangs to the head is bad for your brain and as a result increases risk. However, much like with other degenerative diseases, there is also a fact that people are not genetically designed to live 100 years and so as we continue to nudge life expectancy up through medical science, we also introduce previous unknowns that the body throws up. We can’t legislate for all of these and we shouldn’t restrict activity to mitigate for every possible outcome either. For some perspective, the latest article I read on this said the ex-pro footballers were THREE times more likely to die from Alzheimer disease. In much smaller writing it noted that 1% of the study group was affected compared to 0.3% of a control group.

On the flip side, around 15-20% of goals are from headers. There’s between 10 and 20 crosses into the box most games (plus corners). Attacking plays are built around crosses. Defenders positioning is built around headers. Heading the ball is an absolutely core part of tactics and formations. Even in the new world, where tiki taka is king, the main proponents of the short passing game use a long high ball as an outlet. Heading allows defenders to stand 5 yards further forward and to mitigate speedy players running in behind. I genuinely think we’re underestimating how fundamental heading is to the game of football.

To be clear again, I’m not arguing there is no link and I’m not saying this just as an ex-centre half who’s primary talent was headbanging goal kicks 40 yards up the pitch. I do support making the game safer and, for example, the concussion rules are very sensible. More can and should be done to protect players from dangerous situations. However, what seems like a sensible and simple move to stop people heading is easy to implement in 5-aside. It’s absolutely mammoth in competitive 11s. Scotland introducing the removal of headers from training in under 12s is going to reduce our ability when playing nations that don’t have such nanny-state rules in place. Fifa will never introduce such a rule; so not training a key part of the game will put us at a disadvantage (which is definitely not something we currently need).

If we’re going to try to reduce every 1% risk in our lives to 0.3% we won’t be leaving the house much in this brave new world.
Alex, Ayr


…My aunt has early onset dementia. She is 58. She has never headed a football in her life.

Football is a contact sport giving pleasure to millions playing and billions watching. No-one is forced to play. No-one is forced to head the ball – Lineker famously said that if the ball came towards him at head height, then he would duck out of the way. Still, he wasn’t bad was he?

Making rules to fit the next trend results in a mess like the current VAR offside/handball shambles. What next? Ban tackling and running because it may bring on early arthritis and hip/knee replacements and puts a strain on the NHS?

Someone once said “it’s a mans game”. Although it isn’t anymore, I think we can all agree that it still provides excitement and escape for many people both playing and watching. It is a simple pleasure and easy to get caught up in the pure ecstasy of it all. All you do-gooders, please stop trying to destroy the game.

Head-ball offences? Really? I do despair.

Football – it’s annoying isn’t it.
Bladey Mick


…Interesting comments on heading in football, but I’m not sure what measures Drew is referring to in Rugby and NFL. In both sports there is no effort to reduce the likelihood of head injuries, there are just measures to ensure better treatment which are a concussion check and a period on the side-lines if concussed. Football also now has concussion checks so would broadly be in line with the those sports. The other thing to bear in mind is that in Rugby, head injuries are caused by the collision of 2 heads with the weight of bowling balls smashing together. A football in comparison is less than 10% of the mass of a human head and even when allowing for it’s velocity, the force of the ball ‘colliding’ with a head is a fraction of the force of head collisions in Rugby.

Personally I think banning heading would have a negative impact on the game, specifically it would increase the gulf between the top and bottom of the league as the long ball would become redundant unless your front men have the deftest of touch. As a Bournemouth season ticket holder I can say with some confidence that I don’t see the likes of Solanke bringing down a shoulder height 60 yard ball while under pressure from a remotely competent centre half. Everyone would have to make more effort to play out from the back and through midfield and this will just magnify the difference in quality between opposing teams, probably to the extent that there would be next to no shock results in a season.

If people are so concerned about the impact of headers then surely there are other solutions that don’t involve practically reinventing the game. Why not use something similar to a scrum cap like many Rugby players utilise and Petr Cech wore for many years. These would absorb most of the force of the header and come with the added bonus of us not having to witness Pogba’s sh*t new haircut every week! I’m sure clubs would welcome the opportunity to have a new piece of merchandise to sell and probably another sponsorship opportunity… Woodward would find Man Utd’s new cranium sponsor in 5 minutes!

Mike (fractured skull and brain haemorrhage survivor), Bournemouth


…Banning headers would basically mean asking Shane Duffy to retire. The man’s career is built on heading the ball as far away as possible.
Jack lynch cavan


…Just a counter to the heading / no heading making football better..

Manager of U11s team
“the big defender at the back cant head it clear anymore lads”
“Kick it long to Jimmy, he the fastest kid we got.. ”

So it still becomes kick it long to the fast kid. As most kids football is now it seems..
You just wont have to be 6ft anymore.. so small and fast will do too..
The defenders charter always says ‘Dont let the ball bounce’ Not that becomes you HAVE to let the ball bounce or try and volley / smash it clear…

And surely, as all corners will have to be ‘short’, they just have players crowding the corner area as they cant pump it in the box (or cross it) anymore..?

Seems like kids football will have to have some rule changes really,.

Kids under 12 dont really head the ball that much anyway in my experience.. Is it really going to help dementia of professional footballers who WILL still head the ball.. all their career??
Or is it just a token attempt to look like they are doing something to help?…
Al – Sceptic forever sadly.. LFC (Manu ALWAYS concerns me!)


…Probably an unpopular mail here but I don’t want headers banned from our game.

I fully appreciate there are health risks but these risks are found everywhere in sport. There will always be ways of reducing risk but I think we are in danger of changing the game too much.

VAR in my mind, coupled with the recent rule changes (handball nonsense especially), has been utterly shambolic. It should have been thoroughly tested at grass roots before being rolled out at elite level, but that’s another issue. If you don’t want to head a ball or you don’t want you child to then don’t play – I don’t want to be punched in the face, so I don’t box!

If grass roots training were to emphasise the use of your feet and headers are last resort then the game may slowly evolve (it already has anyway, hasn’t it?) but more drastic changes are the last thing we need.
Dave, Berkshire Spurs.


…Can all those with ideas on how to “improve” football just f*ck off and watch another sport? Please? PLEASE?!?!
Eddie, NI


Drew – Well said, Sir!
A most excellent email. Brilliantly outlined and covered every point I wrote in my (drafted) email. (Time zones aside – in Oz).

Anyway, brilliant points about what the NFL and rugby are looking at and another great point about the fact that the goalie backpass rule change was a strange one but we all got used to it.

I should add that I’m an Arsenal fan who grew up watching corners flicked in onto Steve Bould’s head who bounced it onto Tony Adam’s head….who scored. Mix it up with Winterburn, Dixon and Keown and we scored a shit load of goals that way.

I look back at those goals now (thanks YouTube) and wince when I see their facial expressions when their faces hit the ball.

Perhaps we’ve moved on. Things evolve. Football should too.

Just a caveat: not suggesting that the ball should be played on the floor all the time – Barca Foosball sucks)
Al, Arsenal, Sydney


Pigeon-holing fans
I’ve been toying with this theory for a while so hear me out if it sounds a little bit crazy.

As a Liverpool fan …. ok I’m gonna stop right there.

What was your reaction to those words?

Did your heart sink, your bile rise or your anger flare?

Quite possibly because sometimes that phrase is followed by something that you as a rival of another football team doesn’t like to hear and it provokes a reaction in you. This reaction makes you feel bad, we don’t like feeling bad so we blame the thing that makes us feel bad.

Still with me? Good, you know all this already, I’m not telling you anything new, yet…

Then in order not to feel bad in the future we set up defense mechanisms to avoid this type of feeling bad and in order to do this usually we generalize to avoid that type of feeling bad again. E.g if someone in an Audi tail-gates us for 3 Kms and then zooms off we will deduce that Audi drivers are muppets who should be avoided.

Likewise in football many people decide that fans of a particular club are a particular way e.g. arrogant , entitled, whiny etc etc and ascribe these characteristics to all fans of this particular club.

This is a simple but understandable error of the form, one bad all bad.

Hold on you say, lots of Liverpool (Manu, Arsenal, Chelsea etc) fans say and write stupid things about their clubs, not just one or two.

That’s true, these clubs have enormous followings and here’s the big reveal….

Some football fans use football as a means to express their own issues.

Ok it wasn’t a reveal at all, everyone knows this as well.

But in reality this means two things.

1. what they are blathering on about is usually nothing to do with the issue being discussed primarily.

2. Bigger teams have more fans therefore a number percentage of their fans appear idiotic but it is in fact probably entirely proportional.

There isn’t some childhood scoring instrument given to children at age 8-10 when they usually decide what football team they support highlighting specific characteristics and then assigning them a club in relation to these.

That would be quite silly.

In fact it’s all quite silly isn’t it, maybe that’s why we like it.

Especially when my football team is the greatest the world has ever seen and I’ve nothing else to worry about besides watching great football and writing emails like this.

Dave LFC


Doubling down on Henderson
To reply to the two guys writing into today’s mailbox to defend Jordan Henderson:

It honestly doesn’t matter that Henderson is captain of Liverpool and they’re currently the best side in Europe and are far better than Tottenham at the minute. It doesn’t matter that he’s won trophies and plays well for his club on most occasions.

It’s also not about Henderson being a bad player – he’s definitely not – and you can’t fault his workrate, effort and heart. He was outstanding for England during the World Cup for instance, but as soon as we came up against a top side his limitations were pretty clear.

Against a smaller, weaker side (like the ones you mention Winks shining against!) Henderson is allowed plenty of time on the ball, and so in the 3-5-2 system England used in the WC he looked excellent when he could pick long passes out, as he’s done a couple of times in the qualifiers too.

However, up against Croatia in that tournament he was exposed largely because A) through no fault of his own, he was alongside two very attacking players in Alli and Lingard and had no help when Croatia’s midfielders swarmed him and B) he can’t pass his way out of tight situations and can’t take the ball on the half-turn and quickly distribute it forward.

Therefore if England go to a tournament expecting Rice to screen the defence while Henderson plays metronome alongside him and Maddison/Mount/Grealish ahead of them, it won’t work at all. That’s not Henderson’s fault, just that his skillset isn’t all that compatible in that role.

Winks on the other hand played for Tottenham against Modric and Kroos in the Champions League and did that metronome job to perfection. He also did the same in England’s best performance against a big side since what, 2002, against Spain last October.

If Southgate finds a way to get Winks and Henderson co-existing in the middle for England, with Henderson providing the energy, bite and drive while Winks just keeps recycling possession, they can win Euro 2020. If Winks is left out, they literally have no chance as no other England player right now can perform that role like he can. Again, not a knock on Henderson – he just needs to be deployed in a correct role that suits his skills.


Expression exasperation
After Scotts comment yesterday about Henderson not having the ability on the ball for international level, does he not watch football. International football is far lower standard than Top flight football in several leagues, and I would probably back a top team in the championship to beat a few international teams.
It got me thinking what expressions are regularly used in football that make no sense or just when scrutinised are simply absurd.
A couple to start the with, a penalty shootout is a lottery, well I would like a 50/50 chance of winning in the lottery even a basic prize is greater odds than that.
A goalie is a good shot stopper, surely they all are or why are they playing a such a high level.
Gary in Germany


Barca are back
I’m a Barcelona fan living in Nigeria. For two years, Barca fans were treated to Valverde’s version of football. Granted he helped stabilize the team after the Neymar fiasco, but I felt the team could have done more and we were frequently rescued by the brilliance of Messi. Sometimes I skip watching some matches because I was scared to waste 2 hours.

Setien may not have been the coach Barcelona fans wanted but he is making us giddy again. For the first time in a very long time I’m actively looking forward to the match this weekend. The coach is saying and doing all the right things and I can’t wait to finally watch Barcelona play beautiful football.
Nelson, Lagos, Nigeria.


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