Uefa’s Concussion Ignorance Is Putting Footballers In Serious Danger

Oh, the Uefa Champions League. That pinnacle of club football, with its unwieldy restructure in order to line the pockets of the big clubs, its pitiful fines for acts of racism and its endangerment of supporters outside of stadia. The supposed flagship of the European game gave its latest display of backwards thinking on Wednesday when Arsenal’s Beth Mead was knocked out cold and the Gunners were unable to replace her.

Arsenal still beat Ajax and progressed to the group stage of the Women’s Champions League despite finishing their second leg with 10 players, having already made their full allocation of substitutions. But the lasting effect of this refusal to follow pretty much every other sport and introduce a rule allowing victims of head injuries to be replaced could be very, very serious indeed.

Even in football there are now concussion substitutions allowed in many domestic leagues, with clubs allowed to make an extra change in the event that one of their players is removed due to a knock to the head. So quite why Uefa is dragging its heels in implementing the same conditions in the Champions League is anyone’s guess, particularly when they did introduce concussion substitutions for the recent Women’s Euros in England.


Mead was clobbered by a very late challenge from Ajax’s Lisa Doorn, a thumping head to the Lioness’ jaw. She was out cold for some time before being removed from the field. During the interruption, Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall prepared to bring on Lina Hurtig only to be told he couldn’t make another change.

“There is no doubt that Beth Mead needs to be taken off,” Eidevall told reporters afterwards. “The problem I have is that I asked the fourth official if we could do a concussion substitute and she says ‘yes’.

“We were preparing Lina Hurtig then when we were going to do it she says ‘no’. We were getting her ready for two or three minutes. We could have spent that time speaking to the players about how we could defend with 10 players.”

Other managers, with their team clutching on to a single-goal advantage in a match which had such massive stakes riding on it, might have sent Mead back out there. The incentive was there for him to risk her health in order to help his side over the line. Beyond the desire to protect the long-term well being of the attacker, Eidevall could easily have decided there was nothing in it for him to bring her off and play with 10. 

Thankfully, the Arsenal gaffer went with the sensible choice, but not all managers will. For as long as Uefa leave it down to coaching staff, many of whom are fighting to hold onto jobs in pressure cooker environments, there will always be the chance that somebody is thrown out there when they should be getting checked over. 

Kevin De Bruyne was substituted in the 2021 men’s Champions League final after receiving a bang to the head from Antonio Rudiger’s shoulder, with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola rightly removing his star player despite the sporting incentive to stick him back out on the pitch. But for every Guardiola or Eidevall there is a Marcelo Bielsa allowing Robin Koch to continue for 20 minutes after a head knock playing for Leeds United against Manchester United or a Mikel Arteta leaving on Arsenal’s David Luiz for half an hour after his sickening collision with Wolves’ Raul Jimenez.

In a world in which even the Premier League and EFL concussion rules do not go far enough, the current Champions League regulations are positively archaic. Once more, Uefa are found wanting when it comes to setting the standard. The game needs to take the health of its players seriously, it needs independent doctors taking important decisions out of the hands of club staff. And what it certainly doesn’t need is Uefa incentivising reckless choices over substitutions in the name of getting results.

The European body is failing the sport with every passing game under these current rules, but what else is new?

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Uefa’s Concussion Ignorance Is Putting Footballers In Serious Danger

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