Football (soccer) rules change hypothetical

Concussions and “sub-concussive impacts” are much in the news. It seems to be increasingly accepted that heading the ball, if done often enough, can contribute to long-term problems.

Unlike with American football, it would be rather easy to make a rule that severely decreases the frequency of this: treat playing the ball with your head in the same way that playing it with your hand is now (with the same exception for the goalkeeper).

My question is about the effect of this. It would be a big change - but would it seriously damage the game?

One thought is that players skilled at “bicycle” kicks would have an advantage. (Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one that comes to mind.)

You would be playing a different game, similar to Futsal. Nothing like the football we know and love.

That’s the first I’ve heard of this issue. Do you have links to any serious studies that show heading a football leads to long-term damage?

So far I’ve only heard theories and anecdotes about headers in soccer leading to concussions. There haven’t been the same studies conducted such as in American football and more recently rugby. I’d think more research would be needed because this would be a massive change to the sport.

Now I’ve heard of head clashes leading to concussion in soccer, but they’re a lot rarer and I think the sport could handle “concsussion substitutions” in those cases.

Would it change the game? Yes.

But games do change for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps they could keep heading but just make the ball softer and lighter so it creates less impact.

Protecting payers heads [brains] is a worthy goal and we should be open to the various ways that could be accomplished.

The balls these days are a lot lighter than they used to be. The old laced up leather balls would soak up any water and become much heavier.

Concussions these days tend to be from head clashes or the ball hitting a players head (rather than a deliberate ‘header’)

That said, it has been linked to a high level of Lou Gehrig’s disease in Italian footballers.

Here’s a link to a Radiological Society of North America article.

OK. Well there’s quite a lot of “might”, “possible” and “could” qualification in that article, ending with the statement “while further research is clearly needed”.

So I can’t imagine soccer, which is generally quite resistant to change, affecting a rule change based on the findings so far.

But to answer your hypothetical, if heading the ball was removed as a legal move, I can see it affecting the flow of the game negatively as balls which otherwise would have been kept in play would go as a sideline throw-in or corner kick. It could also reduce the average number of goals per game in an already low-scoring sport.

For those reason I’d envisage huge trouble trying to implement a no-heading rule due to a lack of support from the soccer associations, players and supporters.

Oh, and thank you for the link, interesting!

Jeff Astle was quite a prominent case here - he passed away a few years back, and head trauma from heading the football was officially implicated as cause of death. He played in the 70s and was a superb centre forward of that era - stick his bonce on anything, anywhere, if he thought he could get to it.
Like mascaroni said above, the ball was a totally different artefact in those days - it was a heavy bitch. Even the balls we played with in school football in the 80s were significantly heavier than a modern match football - they’re surprisingly light.

I don’t think there’s any real need for a rule change, any link between heading the ball and brain injuries is far from established, bearing in mind that football (soccer) is by far the largest participation sport in the World both on an amateur and professional level and has been for some time, that hardly speaks for it’s dangers. As has also been said, the ball has got progressively lighter in recent years so even the anecdotal evidence that exists is not indicative of present risks.

I would say bicycle kicks are far more dangerous than headers, a lot of bicycle kicks skirt very close to what is called dangerous play and in fact it is far from unheard for bicycle kicks and similar acrobatic kicks like scissor kicks to be called back for dangerous play because they risk kicking someone in the head. Also bicycle kicks can lead to injuries from poor landings. I like a good bicycle kick, but realistically they should never become a common feature of the game.

This seems a bit strong in view of this (from the post #7 link):

To be sure, the evidence is preliminary and more study is called for.

Is there evidence they lead to long-term problems?

Well, no - if they were more common, it would lead to short-term problems, such as more people being kicked in the face, and people landing awkwardly after poor execution of the kick.

Ultimately, all sports are dangerous, to a greater or lesser degree. Every contact sport will have career-ending (possibly lifelong mobility-threatening) injuries, even deaths on the field. The question is whether the risk is acceptable. Now that football (soccer) balls are so much lighter, as has been pointed out, I think the risk of brain injury is much lower than it used to be - but more research is needed. If that research went on to show that, say, 10% of regular soccer players ended up with brain damage, to me (and I suspect to most people) that would be an unacceptable level of risk to take. The actual number will almost certainly be orders of magnitude less than that, because otherwise we would already have an obvious problem - hundreds of millions of people play soccer regularly for many years of their life, if there were a serious problem it would have come to light by now. Even if the problem were restricted to professionals (plausible, as they play and train harder and much more regularly than anyone else), I think we would be able to quote more than the one example of Jeff Astle (my apologies if there are other well-known cases I am missing).

Now, with gridiron (and boxing), the impacts are much heavier and more frequent. So there is inherently a higher risk of this sort of thing. It may well be that that risk is unacceptable. So far, society at large has mostly deemed it not to be. And so the NFL etc continues.

Back to the OP - such a rule change would significantly change the game - I’m not sure if it would “damage” it. Players would soon become (more) proficient at chesting the ball down and just avoiding their head altogether. It would make for strange play if a long ball was tried, as commonly two players from opposing teams leap up to head the ball - that would disappear, they would either have to let the ball bounce (likely making defending more difficuly - as a defender you are taught not to let it bounce if you can avoid it) or try to make contact with a shoulder, or something. But that would lead to the ball bouncing off shoulders into heads, and a lot of marginal calls - the “handball” rule is already one of the most difficuly laws to police, I don’t think we want to add to that difficulty. The only way really to make sense of it is to stipulate “no over head height” (the ball, that is) - a commonly-used rule in indoor football. That would certainly change the game - except for Barcelona fans, of course :).

Such a rule change would change so much and wouldn’t necessarily make anything safer. Would corner kicks be totally scrapped or something? If a “headball” weren’t allowed, then a corner kick would entail everyone trying to do a bicycle kick or scissor kick to score/clear the ball, which seems much more dangerous, or all corner kicks being short like a throw-in. Also, high crosses would mostly become pointless and tall defenders would all become unemployed as no one needs heading skills anymore. It seems that at least a majority of the injuries come from elbowing. Since using elbows is automatically a red card offence, there isn’t much more punishment you could give to discourse it. However, players could be forced to wear soft elbow pads or soft helmets (like Petr Cech). That would at least not affect the game as much.

A football only weighs 14 to 16 ounces and many times when you head it you are not hitting the ball hard, just trying to get it under control. Even when trying to pound it into the net the ball isn’t often coming straight at you and generally it’s more placement than power. Have a look at these goals.

Only the other day at work someone tossed a soccer ball to me and, forgetting that I now wear glasses, I headed it back to him, without even dislodging my glasses.

I can assure you from my days playing soccer, rugby union and rugby league I would rather head 100 balls than have one accidental head clash with a solid part of another player.

I don’t get why American sports fans devote time to thinking about ways to change soccer.

I could just as easily put forth the following ideas that would change American Football for the better:

1/ Play the same 11 guys on defense as you do on offense

2/ Outlaw hitting with the helmet

3/ Tackle like Rugby

4/ It’s not a “touchdown” if the ball is not touched down in the endzone

5/ Get rid of the helmets and pads

6/ Take a leaf out of Rugby League’s “State of Origin” and get rid of the Pro Bowl. Instead, play a game between the NFL players who were born in the US South vs the players that were born in the US North. Re-fight the US Civil War every year. That’s what happens in Rugby League when NSW plays Queensland in Origin every year, and it’s amazing. The very best players, some of whom play each week for the same club, absolutely belt the hell out of each other in a contest that is a few levels of magnitude above any club game. As I understand it, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest QBs of all time and he’s from the US South. I’m not sure if there are any Pro-Bowl standard Denver Bronco defensive linemen or linebackers from the US North, but if you imagine such a guy sacking Peyton Manning with extreme prejudice then that’s what Rugby League’s Origin is like.

Seriously though, soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Why do American “sports fans” feel free to conjecture about ways it could be improved?

Nobody asked for your input, and your suggestions are just as ridiculous as the above ideas that I put forth for changing the NFL.

You make it sound like none of these have been tried at one time or another. However, if you combine #4 with, “After a touchdown, the extra point must be snapped from a point the same distance from each sideline as where the touchdown was scored,” you may have something.

One reason “one-platoon” football won’t work; the players’ union would never accept it, as it takes jobs away from players. Even “11 for offense and 11 for defense, but no substitutions” would not be acceptable.

Question about State of Origin matches: how reluctant would, say, a Queensland player be to make a hard tackle on an NRL teammate playing for NSW? I was surprised that this didn’t become too much of a problem with the new “draft-style” Pro Bowl. (Obviously, AFC vs NFC made it impossible for teammates to be on opposing teams.)

How do you know the original OP was by an American?

US football will be back to single platoon play soon enough out of necessity.