Pitchside Europe

‘Unconscious’ Lloris should never have played on

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Hugo Lloris showed substantial fortitude to remain on the pitch having been the unfortunate recipient of Romelu Lukaku’s knee to his cranium in the 77th minute of the Premier League encounter between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

The France international looked dazed and confused as he got to his feet and ambled toward the touchline. An eerie silence had descended over the stadium as a collective worry engulfed Goodison Park that they were witness to a Petr Cech-Stephen Hunt-esque incident.

That day, Hunt was able to continue after the coming together while Cech left the field with a fractured skull. On Sunday, such was the ferocity of the collision between Lukaku’s knee and Lloris’s head, the big Belgian left the field minutes later before applying an ice pack to the swelling joint.

Having lain prone on the pitch and out cold for a moment, Lloris managed to win an argument with captain Michael Dawson, a gaggle of Tottenham players and the visiting team's medical staff, as he returned gingerly to station himself between the posts once more.

That Lloris actually made one exceptional save after the injury does not mitigate the inexplicable decision to allow him to play on.

The sanitisation of British football from a combative past has been all encompassing – the importance to project a wholesome, consumer-friendly image is a far cry from the days of Bert Trautmann’s infamous broken neck or the murky days of terrace hooliganism. Some say that the intensity of the British game has diminished in a blur of money and marketing.

While that argument holds some weight, what is not in doubt are the exponential increases in the much-derided health and safety procedures that regulate the national game. That is why the decision to let Lloris continue after such a serious collision is all the more baffling.

FIFA's attitude to concussion is quite clear, as set out in their Sport Concussion Assessment Tool:

“Any athlete with suspected concussion should be IMMEDIATELY removed from play, urgently assessed medically, should not be left alone and should not drive any motor vehicle.”

Only those who were privy to the conversation will be aware as to whether there was a suspicion of concussion. However, it would not be too far a stretch to say that given Lloris’s gait after the collision, the general concern from players in close proximity and the fact that Lukaku’s knee had packed up that the keeper could have been in a concussive state.

Therefore, he should have been IMMEDIATELY removed from play. The decision should have been taken from his hands.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas stood by the decision after the game, despite Lloris having no memory of the incident.

"Hugo still doesn't recall everything about the incident,” he said.

“It was a very difficult moment for us and I am happy he is well. I made the call to keep him on the pitch because of the signs he was giving. He was determined to continue and looked concentrated, driven and focused enough for me not to make the call to replace him. The saves he did after the incident proved that right."

We live in an age when the FA will dole out retrospective action at will – particularly when a player’s safety has been put in doubt - but what of Lloris’s personal safety? Yes, there was no malice in the challenge from Lukaku; neither was there malice in the decision from Spurs or the referee to allow the player to continue. Of course there should be no form of retrospective action against these parties. However, there is no doubt that the player’s safety could have been placed in serious doubt.

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The issue of concussion permeates through sport; one must just look across the pond to the NFL, who recently agreed to pay $765 million (£480 million) to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of former players, many suffering from dementia and health problems as a result of concussion.

Therefore the responsibility lies with the FA to remind the game of the guidelines when it comes to suspected concussions. This is not health and safety gone mad. History paints a grim picture of the dangers of head injuries – look at the case of Michael Watson, for example.

Watson had his career ended prematurely as a result of a near-fatal head injury sustained in a WBO super-middleweight title fight defeat by Chris Eubank in 1991 at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. It was the horrific aftermath of that fight, with Watson in a comatose state for 40 days, that heralded changes to event-side medical procedures which many of our sportspeople benefit from today.

The suggestion is not that Lloris’s injury was anywhere as serious as the aforementioned Watson’s but when there is even the slightest doubt then every precaution must be taken.

Sunday’s episode was undoubtedly brave, but also seriously foolhardy and the custodians of Lloris’s safety while he was on the pitch should have taken the decision out of his hands. Thankfully, it looks as though Lloris’s injury was not a serious as it could have been, but that is not the point.

Marcus Foley

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