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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


What Other Sports Can Learn From Marco van Basten

Written by on March 16, 2011 | 6 Comments »
Posted in Coaching and Sports Science

In the last few months the issue of concussion amongst NHL and NFL players seems to have hit a tipping point.

In the NFL the new sideline testing protocol for head injuries came under intense scrutiny during the recent season, and in the NHL the concussion suffered by poster boy Sidney Crosby that has prevented him from even practising since January 5th, and the recent death of Bob Probert at the age of 45 have only served to underline the serious issue of safety when it comes to sport.

Soccer faced a similar situation (although a very different injury) in the 1990s, and it took the early retirement of one of the sports best players to force the authorities into action.

If Marco van Basten were in his prime today we can’t know for certain what he would be worth, but he would be in the Ronaldo, Messi bracket of players. In his five years at Ajax he scored an astonishing 128 goals in 133 appearances, and after his transfer to AC Milan he notched 90 goals in 147 outings.

He won three league titles with each club and two European Cups with the Italians, two World Soccer player of the Year awards as well as almost countless more individual and team trophies, including the European Championships with the Netherlands.

Yet van Basten was effectively forced to retire from the game due to injury at the age of 28. That may not seem so unusual in one respect since many players find the wear and tear of the sport detrimental to their physical well-being, but van Basten’s injuries were different.

They were the result of pre-meditated tackles from a series of ruthless defenders who had worked out that if they couldn’t stop the Dutchman when he was on the pitch then they would try to get him off it.

Week after week in Serie A he was subjected to players scything him down from behind with very little pretension at getting the ball, and week after week he got no protection from the referee.

In many ways his courage was remarkable, willing to take a pass knowing the inevitable pain that would soon follow, but a vicious tackle by Marseille’s Basile Boli in the 1993 European Cup Final finally proved a bridge too far and despite two seasons of flirting with a comeback he eventually retired for good in 1995.

After discussions with van Basten FIFA banned the tackle from behind shortly before the 1994 World Cup Finals. The realisation had hit home that the best players needed to be allowed to play and that the sport as a whole could not survive whilst allowing career threatening challenges to go unpunished.

No doubt there were people at the time crying out that this would ruin the game and that soccer was a contact sport; the same things that are said about Hockey and the NFL today but, contrary to that view, the game survived and even went from strength to strength.

Marco van Basten lost his career because the authorities were slow to act to the vicious treatment dished out to him. What will an athlete have to lose before the leaders in other sports also face up to their responsibilities?

You can find more of Russell’s writings on soccer at The Vancouver Sun.

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6 responses to “What Other Sports Can Learn From Marco van Basten”

  1. Derek Taylor says:

    So much potential good is lost when people rail about “tradition” and “that’s the way it has always been”. We can’t change games for the sake of change, but some fo the old ‘manly’ ways have to go.

    The NFL made substantial changes to its practice regulation when Minnesota’s star lineman Korey Stringer died of heat-related illnesses in 2001. Mandatory cool zones at training camp, doctors and better awareness of needs for access to water. The days of “take a salt tablet” officially expired with Stringer’s death.

    And the “rub some dirt on it” mentality is passing with the recent horror over concussions. What was lauded and used to sell the game two years ago has become abhorrent. And big hitters are criminals instead of valiant warriors lording over a near-dead Frank Gifford.

    The NHL was insistent that removing the red line for the purposes of two-line passes would not be good for the game. Everything would turn into a cherry-picking shootout. “There’s always been a red line”. Now, thanks to eliminating the red line and the years-old crackdown on obstruction, the NHL is as fast as I can ever remember. It may not be back to 92 goals for Gretzky times…but it’s so much better than the mid-90s.

    Major League Baseball was the first to have instant replay. The NBA constantly tinkers with rules (while forgetting that players getting bigger means the court is, in effect, getting smaller).

    All of these sports remind me that “Because that’s how we’ve always done it” is not a valid reason against making a change.

  2. redfan says:

    There’s an old adage, ‘if things don’t change then they will stay the same’.
    Every year there are new incidents so that every dacade looking back you could do a documentary such are the number of incidents, this in several sports. Yet, despite all the history and the number of casualties, how many players, those who survive to retire from playing, work behind the scenes to improve safety and to maintain or improve the fair ethics the sports were originally founded on?
    As a Brit, I look at the NHL and do not see hockey, it is more like something off the school yard with so much physical abuse and dangerous play. Sorry if that offends the hockey buffs but we have slapshot the movie so why do we need it in the game. I guess there is room for Caddyshack in golf eh?

    The soccer tackles are still in need of tweeking, When I was a kid watching football, I grew up on Ron Harris, Tommy Smith and Jack Charlton et al and if you look at Smith today, he is only able to walk for two replacement knee surgeries.

    Two footed tackles in football (soccer) should be outlawed period.Put a 3 match ban on such tackles and they will stop soon enough. What happened to the old defensive adage of stay on your feet and keep yourself between the oponent and your goal?

    My kids at school play with a ‘no sliding tackle’ rule period. Net result they play ‘foot’ ball on their feet and have a great time.
    May be I am getting old, but if we cannot get goal line technology into the game, what chance have we got of having a sensible off side rule let alone a safer tackling rule?

  3. Derek Taylor says:

    Interesting to see if baseball does anything with its dugouts, now that a Braves minor league manager has lost an eye because of a foul ball.

  4. AntonioSaucedo says:

    After all these years I still remember Van Basten and Gullit with great admiration. Both unstoppable, both class. Still a notch below Platini and Maradona, the most dominant players in the 80s, but not by much.

  5. It was very sad that we did not see more of Van Basten. The prototype for any modern striker.

  6. vanbasten says:

    What?? Van Basten is a notch behind Platini, are you kidding me? Platina is several notches behind van Basten, the best striker EVER! Pure class!

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