Wayne Rooney says English football should follow US example with heading ban

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Wayne Rooney (Getty Images)
Wayne Rooney (Getty Images)

England's record goalscorer Wayne Rooney says children should be banned from heading the ball, following the example of the United States, to reduce the chances of getting dementia later in life.

Former Barcelona and England star Gary Lineker and 1966 World Cup winner Geoff Hurst are among leading names who have called for new regulations to prevent children heading balls.

A study carried out in Scotland concluded professional footballers are around three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population.

Rooney told the Daily Telegraph he witnessed the US rules first hand with his son Kai when he played for MLS franchise DC United.

"When we lived in the States, my eldest boy was in a football team and heading was banned in training and in games," said Rooney, who is now interim player-manager of Championship side Derby.

"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."

Lawyers have confirmed an action has begun on behalf of former players suffering with the neurodegenerative disease, who plan to seek compensation from organisations understood to include the Football Association.

However, Mark Bullingham, FA chief executive, says despite the findings of the Scottish study - which the FA and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) co-funded - it is "not entirely clear cut" what causes the increased risk.

"My mother suffers from it (dementia). I see it first hand. It's horrible," he said.

"I don't think it's entirely clear cut to identify the risk factors.

"But obviously heading could be one of those risk factors and that's why we put in place all the guidelines we have with regards to youth football, which I think are actually tougher than any other country in the world."

'A serious issue'

Rooney's former United team-mate, Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, was a renowned header of the ball. On Friday he welcomed the PFA's announcement they are setting up a taskforce to look into the matter.

"In my career, and every day when I was young we headed a ball in the gym and we ran outside and repeated it hour after hour," Bruce said.

"There is a genuine concern, when you see players before my era, so why wouldn't it affect my era?"

Carlo Ancelotti enjoyed a distinguished playing career winning the European Cup twice with the great AC Milan side.

However, the Everton manager says players are more cosseted these days than in his time.

"Of course, every research they do for this (dementia) is welcome," he said.

"It's true that 40 years ago, when I played, there was not the control that the players have in this period.

"The players now are more controlled."

Hurst said this week he would be willing to donate his brain for research, because several of his 1966 team-mates have died due to dementia.

Nobby Stiles is the latest to have died of dementia-related causes last month and his Manchester United team-mate Bobby Charlton has been diagnosed with it.

Present United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said football had a duty of care to the present and future generation of players.

"We have seen it close-hand with Nobby and Sir Bobby (Charlton)," Solskjaer said.

"It is a serious issue. I need to learn more about it, so we can help raise discussions.

"Progress has to be made. Do we adjust training for kids? Football has a big responsibility here."

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