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Wayne Rooney believes English football should follow the United States by banning youngsters from heading the ball, and Frank Lampard has revealed he would consider changes to Chelsea’s training routines to help combat dementia.
Rooney and Lampard, two of the Premier League’s iconic figures, have expressed their concerns over the impact of the crisis, as Telegraph Sport’s “Tackle Football’s Dementia Scandal” campaign continues to gather pace.
Rooney, the record England and Manchester United goalscorer, admitted the number of deaths from dementia was a serious concern and said his eldest son, Kai, was prevented from heading the ball in youth teams during the family’s time in the US.
“The number of footballers who have died over recent years from the disease is too many,” he said. “It’s difficult to see former players dying so young, and knowing that football might have been a part of that is really sad. You feel sad for the families of these guys who have passed away with this disease, so the more research that can be done, the better.
“When we lived in the States, my eldest boy was in a football team and heading was banned in training and in games.
“I was thinking ‘how could a ball be coming to a young kid and nobody heads it?’. But no one did it. If the ball was coming to their head, they moved away from it and let it run through, so maybe that’s something that could happen on a more regular basis over here.
“Clearly, something needs to change to make sure this doesn’t happen to the next generation of players when young men are dying of this disease.”
Lampard believes limits can be placed on players heading the ball in training and is looking into whether changes could be made at Chelsea.
Former striker Gary Lineker and 1966 World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst have called for an end to heading during training, which Lampard believes must be addressed.
“I am certainly considering it, how we train here, because of the seriousness of the issue,” Chelsea’s head coach said.
“I think it is viable. We have to start with youth football and at the youth end of the spectrum, children who are developing and their bodies are developing.
“We can really control the levels of training and I’m not sure, technically, how important it is to overload training at that age. If we now know there is a health aspect to it, then we can control that.
“I would lay that one on the experts to set the foundations and anything we can do to make it safer, we should. Then we can work up the pyramid.”
Lampard’s playing career for West Ham United, Chelsea, Manchester City, New York City and England lasted for 21 years, while his 72-year-old father, Frank senior, played for West Ham and England during a 19-year career.
“There probably has to be a get-together of the smart minds who have put research into this and maybe ex-players and pros alike,” Lampard said.
“Whether it be restrictions or we are much more careful about how we train in terms of heading the balls, we should look at it seriously.”
Lampard believes official restrictions on heading would need to be put in place for managers and players to adhere to, rather than leaving it to clubs to implement their own rules.
“I think it has to be very structured from a younger age group and I think the rules need to be stronger to make sure we’re not making younger children playing the game head it,” he said. “They don’t need to and I think in developing years that’s more than possible.
“At the professional level, because the small gains are huge, we all have to be working under the same guidelines and we have to trust each other that we are. At the moment, there are no guidelines. If we were to restrict the training element [ourselves], when you ask players to head the ball on a Saturday, I don’t think it’s possible. It would have to be something that goes across the board.”
Hundreds of former players, including five members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, have been diagnosed with dementia and Telegraph Sport has been campaigning on the issue since 2016.
Dean Smith, the Aston Villa head coach, is acutely aware of dementia’s impact as his late father, Ron, who was not a footballer, suffered with the disease for seven years.
Smith, a former defender, said there needed to be evidence to prove there was a clear link between dementia and heading the ball.
“The research is very important. It’s one of the toughest things to go through, seeing parents suffering with dementia,” he said.
“I’ve spoken openly before about the struggles my dad had, and eventually having to go into a care home. We need to make sure there is no stone left unturned to go and find out whether there is certainly a correlation between heading a football and dementia.
“Obviously, my dad wasn’t a footballer, but he suffered from dementia as well. We need to make sure the work is going on.”