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Study of footballers’ brains highlights dementia concerns

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LONDON (AP) The degenerative damage potentially caused by repeated blows to the head in soccer has been highlighted by a rare study of brains of a small number of retired players who developed dementia.

Fourteen former players were part of the research that began around 40 years ago and six brains, which underwent post-mortem examinations, had signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Four brains were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology, a possible consequence of repeated impacts to the brain, including heading the ball and concussion injuries from head-to-head collisions. A previous study of 268 brains from the general population in Britain found a far lower CTE detection rate of 12 percent.

[ MORE: Clattenburg leaves England ]

The small sample size of former footballers prevented researchers from University College London and Britain’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery from drawing any conclusions about the dangers posed by playing soccer as they released their research.

But researchers hope the findings provide the impetus for more substantial studies in conjunction with soccer authorities. The researchers require current or retired players to be willing to take part of investigations that could take decades to produce conclusions.

“Our findings show there is a potential link between repetitive head impacts from playing football and the later development of CTE,” lead author Dr. Helen Ling of the UCL Institute of Neurology told The Associated Press.

“This will support the need for larger scale studies of a larger number of footballers who need to be followed long term, looking at various aspects in terms of their mental functions, imaging of the brain and also markers that might identify neurological damage.”

England’s Football Association said it is committed to “independent, robust and thorough” research, which it is jointly funding with the players’ union. The Alzheimer’s Society maintained that the latest “results do not provide proof that heading a football, or sustaining a head injury by any other means during the sport, is linked to developing dementia.”

“Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia and it’s important to ensure that people playing any kind of sport are able to do so safely,” Dr. James Pickett, research head at the Alzheimer’s Society, said.

Concerns have grown in Britain about the impact of head injuries after campaigning by the family of former England striker Jeff Astle, whose death at age 59 in 2002 was attributed to repeatedly heading heavy, leather balls.

Astle’s daughter, Dawn, is urging “current footballers or families of footballers to pledge the brain” for medical research.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

“If we hadn’t donated dad’s brain, we wouldn’t know what we know now – we wouldn’t know what had killed him,” Dawn Astle said. “It’s too late for dad. The research is so important for current players and for future players. That’s why we need it.

“I think that’s what is so very frustrating – the fact that it’s nearly 15 years since my dad died. And the fact that nothing from any footballing authorities has been done. It is really indefensible and disgraceful.”

At least four members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad have developed dementia or memory loss.

In the United States, there has been a $1 billion settlement between the NFL and thousands of its former American football players who have been diagnosed with brain injuries linked to repeated concussions. In 2015, the U.S. Soccer Federation recommended a ban on headers for players 10 and under in a bid to address concerns about the impact of head injuries.

[ MORE: NYCFC adds new DP ]

The British soccer research was instigated by consultant psychiatrist Dr. Don Williams, who started to monitor former players who were diagnosed with dementia from 1980. From Swansea in south Wales, Williams monitored the retired players and collected data on their playing and concussion history.

“In 1980 the son of a man with advanced dementia asked me if his father’s condition had been caused by heading the ball for many years as a powerful center half,” Williams said. “As the brain is a very fragile organ, well protected within the skull, this was a constructive suggestion.

“As a result I looked out for men with dementia and a significant history of playing soccer, followed them up and where possible arranged for post-mortem studies to be carried out.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Report: Martino to leave Atlanta, national team job looms

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Tata Martino’s future has been debated for some time.

Would he elect to stay with Atlanta United beyond the season? Would national team duty call? And if so, would it be the USMNT? A return to Argentina?

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

Now ESPN is reporting that Martino will leave Atlanta United at the end of this season, opening another high profile MLS job next to the LA Galaxy vacancy.

Presuming he wants to leave Atlanta, which option is most attractive?

  • Mexico and the USMNT are both on the precipice of golden generations, assuming they pick the right shepherd. El Tri is a bit further along in the process than the U.S., and it would be an easy selection.
  • Argentina is Martino’s home, and he’s held the job before. Would the idea of melding Lionel Messi’s final prime throes with Paulo Dybala to try and claim a first Copa America since 1993 be enough?
  • Colombia would also face the test of World Cup qualifying in CONMEBOL, and is a pretty packed side. James Rodriguez (27), Yerry Mina (23), and Davinson Sanchez (22) will be around for the long haul, while Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao are still productive.

Mourinho, Man Utd revel in Pogba performance

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Paul Pogba blessed Manchester United with a powerful performance in the Red Devils’ 3-0 UEFA Champions League win at Young Boys on Wednesday, and it was impossible not to notice his class.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

Jose Mourinho did, as did several of his teammates on a night the French midfielder scored twice and assisted United’s other goal.

“Solid, class and gave the team the pace we needed at times,” said Manchester United’s manager. “He controlled the tempo and of course it was a very good goal.”

Pogba again captained the side, which has won three-straight and allowed just one goal in wins over Burnley and Watford in addition to Wednesday’s win.

Luke Shaw drew a penalty that Pogba converted for the match’s second game, and loved what he saw from his captain. From the BBC:

“He gets some stick sometimes but we know what quality he has. For me, he is one of the best in the world. He is important as captain. He shows on the pitch what kind of leader he is. Hopefully he can carry that on.”

Mourinho’s praise carries a bit more weight considering he didn’t quite enjoy the competition.

“Job done,” he said. “Not phenomenal but good enough. (Young Boys) were intense, compact and had self esteem.”

UCL wrap: Real rocks Roma, Vlasic finishes CSKA comeback

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What a day in the UEFA Champions League!

CSKA Moscow came from two down to get a draw, Paul Pogba put on a one-man show in Switzerland, Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in Spain, and Manchester City slumped to a home loss.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

And, oh yeah, Real Madrid scored a pair of show-stopping goals in a 3-0 win over Roma that left few worries about life post-Ronaldo.

Young Boys 0-3 Manchester United RECAP

Paul Pogba scored a brace, the first a sensational dribble and drive, as Jose Mourinho’s men had little trouble in Switzerland. The second half saw the Frenchman assist Anthony Martial to help the Red Devils cruise home.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim led twice, the second time through Havard Nordtveit, but would only take a point home from Ukraine thanks to an 81st minute goal from 21-year-old Brazilian attacker Maycon de Andrade Barberan.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Benfica 0-2 Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski scored in the 10th minute and Renato Sanches after halftime as Bayern eased to a win at the Estadio da Luz.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Viktoria Plzen 2-2 CSKA Moscow

Czech midfielder Michael Krmencík scored twice to give the hosts a first-half lead, but Fyodor Chalov finished a 49th minute chance to pull one back for the Russian visitors. And it was a precursor to another CSKA goal, the leveler coming from Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic and his penalty kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Real Madrid 3-0 AS Roma

We need your help deciding whether Real Madrid’s first or third goal was more spellbinding, please.

Gareth Bale scored a second half goal, but it’s impossible to discuss this game without mentioning the delightful free kick goal from Isco and Mariano Diaz’s outstanding stoppage time belter. My goodness.

Valencia 0-2 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in controversial fashion, but Miralem Pjanic scored twice from the penalty spot to help 10-man Juve to the win. Wojciech Szczesny stopped a stoppage time penalty to preserve the shutout for The Old Lady.

Ajax 3-0 AEK Athens

Left back Nicolas Tagliafico sandwiched a pair of goals around Donny van de Beek’s 77th minute marker as Ajax scooped up an easy win against Greek opposition.

Manchester City 1-2 LyonRECAP

The French visitors took advantage of sloppy midfield play and an awful clearing attempt from Fabian Delph to build a 2-0 lead, and Bernardo Silva‘s goal from a Leroy Sane feed was all City could muster in its comeback bid.

Pogba runs show as Man Utd cruises

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  • Pogba scores twice, including beauty
  • His first UCL goals since 2016
  • Assists Martial’s second half marker

Paul Pogba scored two first-half goals and assisted Anthony Martial‘s second half marker as Manchester United eased to a 3-0 win over Young Boys at the Stade de Suisse in Bern on Wednesday.

United’s next UCL match is home to Valencia on Oct. 2, the same day Young Boys visit Juventus in Turin.

Summer buy Diogo Dalot made his United debut. The 19-year-old played all 90 minutes for Jose Mourinho’s men.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Pogba’s first goal was a sensational strike with an equally eye-catching dribble to create his yard of space.

Luke Shaw then won a penalty when his cross hit Kevin Mbabu‘s hand before the ex-Newcastle man could get it to his body.

Pogba converted the effort without a problem, and would not need to play the whole 90 minutes. His second half included this assist to Martial.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]