Man United’s Varane: Concussions have ‘damaged my body’

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Manchester United defender Raphaël Varane has addressed the impact of suffering multiple concussions during his career has had on his life, noting that he has “damaged his body.”

Varane, 30, told French outlet L’Equipe that he had played multiple games for both club and country while dealing with the effects of head injuries, and wants to raise awareness on what he considers to be an underrepresented issue in modern football.

The former France international, who retired from international football in February 2023, said he got concussed playing in his country’s 2014 World Cup round-of-16 match against Nigeria, adding that he finished the game in “autopilot” and that “if someone had spoken to me at the time, I don’t know if I would have been able to respond.”

Varane said he also played with head injury symptoms for Real Madrid against Manchester City in the Champions League in the COVID-19-affected 2019-20 season. He said he left the field against Getafe in a LaLiga game five days prior and felt “intensely tired” in between games, but attributed that to usual end-of-season fatigue until he reached the warmup of the European game and felt so tired he “almost wanted to slap himself.”

The issue continues to affect Varane and has forced him out of games this season for Man United — in particular relating to “micro-concussions” caused by headers.

“The first time I heard about [micro-concussions] was this season when specialists came in to talk to us about it… Often, as a player, we don’t understand and we don’t even think about doing a test,” he said.

“Earlier this season, I headed the ball repeatedly during a match for Man United and felt abnormally tired in the following days, as well as having some eye fatigue.

“I reported it to the staff who strongly recommended that I don’t play, and I took a test which meant that I missed the next match.”

Varane added that the culture of men’s football contributes to the lack of conversations around head injuries.

“As footballers playing at the highest level, we are used to pain, we are a bit like soldiers, tough guys, symbols of physical strength, but these symptoms are almost invisible.

“If your leg hurts and you limp, everyone sees it. But with head injuries, it immediately feels weak to say that you are tired, that you have migraines or eye fatigue… So at first, we tell ourselves that it will pass.”

Varane said he thinks changes need to be made to ensure players aren’t overexposed to head trauma from a young age and beyond.

“My seven-year-old son plays football, and I advise him not to header the ball.

“Even if it does not cause immediate trauma, we know that in the long term, repeated shocks are likely to have harmful effects. I don’t know if I will live to be 100, but I know that I have damaged my body.”

Repeated concussions can cause brain injury and lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a debilitating brain disease that can cause a range of negative symptoms the more advanced it becomes. The protocol set out by England’s Football Association states that if a player is suspected of having concussion, they must be immediately removed from the pitch, whether in training or during a match.

Last month, football’s lawmakers, IFAB, approved the use of permanent concussion substitutions after repeated calls to do so from governing bodies and organisers, including the Premier League.

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