Heading damaged my body and I played on autopilot – Raphael Varane

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Raphael Varane acknowledges that he has “caused harm to his body” due to the ongoing effects of heading the ball.

Defender Varane, currently with Manchester United, revealed that during a France World Cup game in 2014, he played on “autopilot” despite suffering from concussion.

He advocates for increased protection and improved awareness regarding the issue.

“My seven-year-old son plays football and I advise him not to head the ball. For me, that’s essential,” Varane told L’Equipe.

“Even if it doesn’t cause any immediate trauma, we know that in the long term, repeated shocks can have harmful effects.

“Personally, I don’t know if I’ll live to be 100, but I do know that I’ve damaged my body. The dangers of headers need to be taught on all amateur football pitches and to young people.”

Varane points to France’s 1-0 quarter-final loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup and a Champions League last-16 encounter with his former team Real Madrid against Manchester City in 2020 as instances when he continued to play despite experiencing concussion.

The center-back admits to endangering himself by participating in the match against Germany in 2014, having sustained a blow to the head during a last-16 fixture against Nigeria a few days earlier.

“I finished the [Nigeria] match but I was in ‘autopilot’ mode,” he said. “The staff wondered if I was fit [to play Germany]. I was weakened, but ultimately I played and rather well.

“What we’ll never know is what would have happened if I had taken another knock to the head.

“As footballers used to playing at the highest level, we are accustomed to pain, we are a bit like soldiers, tough guys, symbols of physical strength, but these [concussions] are symptoms which are quite invisible.”

In July 2021, new regulations were released stating that professional footballers in England should be restricted to 10 ‘higher force headers’ per week during training sessions starting from the 2021-22 season. Additionally, permanent concussion substitutes were implemented in the Premier League in 2021.

Recently, a collective of 17 former players and their families initiated legal proceedings against various governing bodies of the sport, alleging negligence and a failure to fulfill their duty of care towards former players.

The group alleges minutes of a Football Association meeting in 1983 “indicate [the FA] was always fully aware of the dangers” of concussion in football and “failed to take action to reduce the risk to players to the lowest reasonable level”.