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Report: PFA asks FA to consider ban on heading for kids under 10

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English football seems set to follow in the footsteps of the American game, as the Professional Footballers’ Association has urged the English Football Association to consider a ban on heading the ball for children under the age of 10, according to a report from the Telegraph.

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U.S. Soccer announced last November a new youth-level initiative that would “(a) improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players; (b) implement more uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players suspected of having suffered a concussion” in an attempt to better protect players aged 13 and under.

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The PFA’s call to action is founded on a study, conducted by the University of Stirling, which uncovered “frightening anecdotal evidence of former players suffering with serious brain conditions.” A terrifying statistic from the study:

The Stirling study reported a reduction in memory performance of 41-67 per cent in the 24 hours after players headed a football 20 times that was delivered with the pace and power of a corner kick. Memory function did return to normal 24 hours later but, with many former footballers being diagnosed with brain conditions in later life, the call for urgent and more detailed research has grown ever louder.

Controversy as Suarez is shortlisted for top award

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England’s players’ union revealed the six-man shortlist for its Player of the Year award today and one of the Premier League’s most talented performers is on it. So far so good, you might think.

Except, we’re referring to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, scorer of 29 goals this term. Just imagine how poor an already-underwhelming Liverpool side might have looked without him.

Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra last season. And anyone who watched the 2010 World Cup finals will remember that the Uruguay star also rates himself as a goalkeeper. So there is resistance in some quarters to the idea of honoring a man whose behavior in the past has been odious, to say the least.

But is it the job of the Professional Footballers Association’s award organizers to judge a player by his prior character? Or should they just stick to pure performance? The prize is called Player of the Year, after all, not Humanitarian of the Year.

“It is very difficult at times. Players are expected to be top role models and set the finest example. That goes with the trade these days,” PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told the Press Association.

“I don’t underestimate the need for them to do all they can to be seen as a good example. But they are also human beings. It is not always possible to put old heads on relatively young shoulders. This is a footballing award and Suárez’s footballing ability shines through. It would be naive to think controversy won’t continue to travel with him. But I think his football has maintained his place.”

Here’s the shortlist: Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Robin van Persie (Manchester United).

The winner will be announced on April 28. Bizarrely, voting takes place far before the season’s end. The award is decided by players, and it’s fair to say Suarez’s dubious personality might count against him, making Bale and Van Persie favorites. The latter recently had a two-month dry spell in front of goal, but many of the ballots would have been cast before that became too noticeable.

Other takeaways: no place for Swansea’s Michu, no goalkeepers, defenders or tough-tackling midfielders, and no representatives from last year’s Premier League champions, Manchester City.

Nine charged after unrest at Manchester Derby

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Nine people have been charged by Manchester police after late match unrest yesterday at the Etihad Stadium. Although the person who threw the coin that struck Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has yet to be identified, others have been charged with racially aggravated public order offenses, pitch encroachment, breaching banning orders, or drunk and disorderly conduct.

And perhaps the best part, their names and ages have been printed in the national papers. At least the people of Manchester know which idiots caused yesterday’s chaos.

As soccer matches go, the chaos was rather mild. That didn’t make it any more palatable. After Robin van Persie’s stoppage top restart was deflected into Joe Hart’s net, Manchester City’s home crowd caused a small delay in the match. People invading the playing field drew the attention of security and Hart, who physically confronted one frightened fan as he approached Ferdinand. As Ferdinand celebrated, a coin from the crowd his him above the left eye, requiring his trainer’s attention as blood streamed down the defender’s face.

The spectacle has drawn critique from higher ups in the English game. Professional Footballer’s Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, as told to BBC Radio 5 Live:

“I think you’ve got to give consideration to possibly, as has been suggested, some netting in vulnerable areas, be it behind the goals and round the corner flags.”

Football Association chairmen David Bernstein:

“It is deplorable to see those incidents and to see Rio Ferdinand with blood on his face is absolutely terrible.

“I think it’s disturbing that we’re seeing a recurrence of these types of incidents. We’ve had racial abuse issues, the odd pitch incursion, things being thrown at players – it’s very unacceptable and has to be dealt with severely.”

The indignation’s predictable, and the words are nice, but the issue goes deeper than nets. It’s easy to point to other sports leagues and cultures and say “they don’t have these problems,” but that doesn’t make it any less constructive. Why is this a problem in one environment and not in others?

The sad fact is that this type of behavior has been permitted to be part of the game in too many places. Perfunctory words from executives when the dark cloud rises does little to change the culture.  Nor does noting things have improved over the last couple of decades. Just because things were worse before doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be better now.

There needs to be a more concerted, persistent, and aggressive push to make clear what is acceptable behavior at soccer grounds. The effort needs to be proactive, not reactive. Until that happens, it’s hard to see the English game as anything more than mildly concerned about problems like Sunday’s.