A series of high-profile heart problems and collapses among professional footballers in recent weeks is likely a coincidence, rather than an indication that players are struggling to cope with high-intensity play, according to a prominent cardiologist.
Soccer was rocked when three players were hospitalized this week after falling ill during training sessions or matches.
Wigan forward Charlie Wyke, 28, collapsed in training, John Fleck, 30, of Sheffield United, collapsed on the field of Reading and Adama Traore, 25, clutched his chest while playing in the League of Champions for Sheriff Tiraspol against Real Madrid.
Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck was taken to hospital after collapsing on the field.
While the cause of those collapses is being investigated, 33-year-old Barcelona forward Sergio Agüero was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia after being forced to retire due to chest pains in a 1-1 draw against Alavés last month and the midfielder. Icelander Emil Palsson, 28, required resuscitation after cardiac arrest in October.
The incidents have renewed concerns for the well-being of footballers that followed the heartbreaking collapse of 29-year-old Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen, who suffered a heart attack at Euro 2020.
Professor Guido Pieles, who heads the Sports Cardiology Clinic at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, said there was no evidence that heart problems were occurring in footballers more frequently and believes that any group of incidents is one ‘ coincidence’.
Sheriff Tiraspol’s Adama Traore fell clutching his chest in the Champions League
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest against Finland at Euro 2020
“ At present, I would say that this is still a coincidence, ” Professor Pieles said. Sportsmail.
“I don’t think we can say that this is suddenly increasing, I don’t think it is increasing particularly in football.
“Footballers are certainly not the athletes who have the highest volume and intensity of training. Endurance runners, Tour de France cyclists and rowers train for many more hours.
“You can’t say that in the last year or two they train more but in the last 10 years that is true.
“The game has gotten faster, but people are also fitter. If you play football in the Premier League, you’ve done it since you were seven or eight years old. “
Barcelona forward Sergio Agüero fell ill on the pitch and was treated by medical personnel
However, the expert suggests that footballers and elite athletes should undergo cardiac examinations more regularly throughout their careers to provide them with the best possible protection.
“ The evidence says that 15- or 16-year-olds should be screened because the highest incidence of sudden cardiac arrest is 16 to 18, ” said the cardiologist, who advises the FA. Sportsmail.
But I think we have to do it more often. Players in their twenties must be evaluated.
“Diseases can occur within 20 years of a player’s career. There should be intermittent screening. ‘
Sudden cardiac arrest can occur when a player has an underlying heart condition, and while most problems are caught through screening, a small percentage can go undetected.
Wigan forward Charlie Wyke (pictured against Solihull Moors on November 16) is in hospital after collapsing in training. The club has confirmed that it is now in a stable condition
Also, an inflammation of the heart, called myocarditis, can occur after a viral illness that makes a person more susceptible to heart problems, even cardiac arrest, during exercise.
Professor Pieles said that the AF cardiac screening program is one of the most developed in football and is effective.
“Compared to other associations, the FA has a fantastic screening program. We are quite advanced. It is a rigorous program for the first four leagues.
“This is the best there is in professional football.
‘The selection is a mandate of the FA and it is the responsibility of the clubs to do so. Experts review the scans. It is mandatory at 15 or 16 years of age and recommended for adults. ‘
Barcelona forward Sergio Agüero has been diagnosed with a heart problem at the age of 33
Players from many of the top clubs are annually examined by an EKG to monitor their heart rate and electrical activity, and they undergo an ultrasound to examine the heart. But this is not necessarily the case later in the leagues.
Professor Pieles, who also works with some of Europe’s leading clubs, including Manchester United, added: “The recommendation is that players should be screened more frequently, but we have not set an age at which this should happen.” .
Research by Professor Pieles and other cardiologists, working with the FA, has found that since the English soccer screening program began in 1996, six players have died as a result of sudden cardiac arrest.
All of these players had been tested at 15 or 16 years of age, but they died around seven years later.
“If a player is evaluated at 16, we cannot guarantee that when he is 29, everything will be normal,” said the expert. “Some diseases appear in the late 20s or 30s, so we also recommend longitudinal screening.
Eriksen’s teammates formed a human shield around him as they treated him on the field.
‘This depends a bit on the clubs. All clubs do their best to achieve this, but it varies. I think more education can be done to make screening more efficient and frequent. ‘
In particular, the cardiologist believes that support should be provided to clubs below the highest level to ensure that players are evaluated throughout their careers.
“These tests are not expensive, but they are the practical aspects of them for the lower league clubs,” said Professor Pieles.
‘It’s more challenging. We need to work together with clubs and coaches and have strategies to improve this and make it more accessible. ”
Manchester City midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe died while playing for Cameroon in 2003
“The governing bodies must work together to see how this strategy can be implemented,” he added. “I can see that it is different for a fourth level club to implement cardiac screening. They have fewer staff, the configuration and the strategy must be integrated ”.
It will mark 10 years next March since Fabrice Muamba’s career ended after he suffered cardiac arrest on the field while playing for Bolton at Tottenham, but the 33-year-old said recent cases showed how much more was left to go. do.
Muamba said: ‘There is complacency about it. We have a high profile incident, we talk about it a lot and we think we have solved it, but we have not.
” We are supposed to be the fittest of the fittest. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone else.
Wigan has yet to confirm what caused its player’s collapse. The former Sunderland striker collapsed during a session as the League One team prepared to face Cambridge United, with whom they drew 2-2 on Tuesday night.
In a statement, Wigan confirmed that Wyke was immediately treated by medical staff after he collapsed and he has since been taken to hospital where he remains stable.
Sheffield United player Fleck was released from the hospital on Wednesday morning and headed back to Sheffield, where he will be monitored by the club after speaking clearly with doctors and his family.
Fabrice Muamba collapsed during Bolton’s game against the Spurs at White Hart Lane in 2012
In Moldova, Traore committed to a 50/50 challenge on the touchline with Real Madrid’s Nacho Fernández and when the ball went out of play the Tiraspol player appeared in anguish.
Traore turned to walk away from the ball, which had come out for a throw-in, in the 77th minute when he immediately felt uncomfortable, clutching his chest before falling to the grass.
He kept breathing the entire time, but after a few seconds of lying on the ground and clearly worried, the medics rushed to help.
He was seen shaking his head in response to questions from doctors and was eventually brought to a sitting position before being helped off the field.
Former Newcastle midfielder Cheick Tiote died in 2017 after suffering cardiac arrest in training while playing for the Chinese team Beijing Enterprises Club.
Players suffering from cardiac arrest is not a new problem. Former West Ham and Manchester City midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe died at the age of 28 while playing for Cameroon in 2003 and former Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiote collapsed and died at age 30, while training with the Group of Beijing companies in 2017.
And it’s not just elite players who are affected. In September, 17-year-old Dylan Rich, a popular and talented left winger for the West Bridgford Colts, died after suspected cardiac arrest during an FA Youth Cup game in Nottinghamshire.
Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba in 2012 and Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas in 2019 are among those who have had lucky escapes.