By Daniel Matthews and David Coverdale for the Daily Mail
Sergio Aguero has been waiting since he was 14, and he used to say, “One day Barcelona will definitely notice me.” Nearly two decades of call came and last month Aguero opened his account for Barcelona in the Clasico against Real Madrid.
It wasn’t supposed to be his last bow. Six days later, the striker experienced chest pains against Alaves. Now, after being diagnosed with arrhythmia, Aguero’s career appears to have come to an end at the age of 33.
It comes five months after Christian Eriksen’s horrific collapse and just three weeks since Icelandic midfielder Emil Palson called for resuscitation. Both suffered cardiac arrest on the field.
Here, Shrewsbury striker Ryan Bowman is back in the net after a heavy flop against Ipswich last month.
His heart was racing at 250 beats per minute and doctors had to shock his heart system back to normal.
Others never get that second chance. In September, 17-year-old Dylan Rich died after a suspected cardiac arrest during an FA Youth Cup match in Nottinghamshire.
The Barcelona striker was treated by the medical staff but managed to leave the field without help
Is it enough to prevent tragedy from happening again on the pitch? Sportsmail Talk to a number of relatives, experts and activists. Today they warn:
- More lives will be needlessly lost due to football’s naivety about cardiac arrest.
- There are disagreements between clubs and doctors over whether or not players with fatal conditions should retire, with medical advice often ignored.
- Top teams do not perform all available testing, although the hearts of elite athletes are at increased risk.
Research published in 2018 found that soccer players’ risk of sudden cardiac death was ‘much higher than expected’. One in 260 people had a life-threatening heart condition.
Manchester City midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe died while playing for Cameroon in 2003
German newspaper Berliner Zeitung recently claimed that 24 players, coaches or officials had collapsed with suspicious heart problems between July 11 and October 15 – one every four days.
Nothing kills under-30 athletes in the UK more than sudden cardiac arrest. Each year, 600 people die before the age of 35 from undiagnosed heart disease.
Dr Stephen Cox of Cardiac Risk in the Young says: “If you get a car with something that doesn’t quite fit the engine, and you decide to drive it through the desert, you put it in a worst-case scenario. (crying). This is the key. It’s not normal what athletes do.
Charlie Edinburgh was in his kitchen when Eriksen fell on the lawn in Copenhagen in June. The 28-year-old watched alongside his mother Kerry as life left the midfielder’s body.
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a heart attack against Finland at Euro 2020
“All I could think of were the memories of my father,” Edinburgh says.
“All the pain and suffering we’ve endured.” In 2019, former Tottenham defender and Leighton Orient manager Justin Edinburgh passed away at the age of 49 following a cardiac arrest in a gym. “It just brought back terrible memories,” adds Charlie. No words can explain the shock. It’s like a light switch. One minute they are here, the next day they are gone.
Eriksen’s heart was reset again within 13 minutes of emergency treatment. Now the Danish midfielder, fitted with a defibrillator and defibrillator (ICD), is hoping to play again.
Through the JE3 Foundation, Edinburgh is struggling to ensure that his family – rather than Eriksen’s – is the exception. “Cardiac arrests won’t go away—that’s the scary thing,” he says. This happens on a regular basis. There is a lot the wider football community can do.”
The Denmark midfielder has had a heart reversal after 13 minutes of treatment
The institution “flooded” the clubs and individuals within the sport who were keen on education and training.
Tottenham defender Japhet Tanganga attended a CPR workshop. Wolves players have requested a basic life support session after a Newcastle fan collapsed.
But across football, Edinburgh is missing a missed opportunity. “How many cases should occur?” Asked. “Something has to be done as more lives will be lost needlessly.”
This is not a new problem, after all. Marc-Vivien Foe and Cheick Tiote collapsed and died while playing.
Fabrice Mwamba and Iker Casillas are among those who escaped lucky. Crystal Palace midfielder Conor Gallagher underwent heart surgery in 2018 after he felt his heart beating at an alarming rate and fell ill.
Ajax defender Daley Blind was fitted with an ICD for “myocarditis” in 2019. The device took off last year when it collapsed during pre-season.
There are concerns that football’s ever-increasing speed and ever-inflating calendar may put vulnerable players at risk.
“We’re seeing more and more issues coming up and it’s still being reported to the general public,” says cardiologist Dr Anil Malhotra, who works with England and Premier League clubs.
Justin Edinburgh, the former director of Leyton Orient, died after suffering cardiac arrest in 2019
To try and spot heart problems before it’s too late, every player in the 92 Premier League clubs in 16, 18, 20 and 25 is now being screened. Players undergo an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor their heart rhythm and electrical activity, as well as ultrasounds. These reveal the most dangerous conditions.
Midfielder Nnamdi Ovoborh was sidelined after joining Rangers from Bournemouth in the summer when medics discovered a possible problem with his heart. However, not everything can be captured.
At Tottenham, Eriksen was tested annually and showed no warning signs. “You can check until the cows come home,” Malhotra says. “But a small percentage of people may sneak through the network.” When problems are detected, the majority can be treated or remedied. But again, not everything.
“At this point, we have to make a call as to whether this athlete should keep playing,” says Professor Sanjay Sharma, head of the FA’s Heart Consensus Team of Experts, who also screened Eriksen at Tottenham. This is where the sports and medical communities are a little divided. Who am I to say: Never play again?
All paramedics can do is warn. “It’s a very difficult conversation,” Sharma explains. A conversation that can be ignored. “Thank you very much, Doctor, but I will keep playing.” There is a lot of it.
Then the responsibility lies with the player and the employer. Sportsmail Find out that a League One player was on the verge of joining one of the top clubs in the Premier League this year until an underlying heart problem was discovered. Another top-tier club chose to sign him.
“As a business owner, you have to show some responsibility,” Sharma says. If something goes wrong, people should be able to go back and say they did everything right.
Friction arises when a cardiologist tells you, “Someone should definitely take the lead on this.” Someone who understands what can go wrong should be able to turn around and say, “He shouldn’t have played.”
Ajax defender Daley Blind collapsed in training before last season but has recovered
This is happening in Italy, where the rules ban players like Eriksen if they are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. There is no such policy here – nor is a heart scan mandatory across organized sport.
In Italy, all children who play sports at the root level are tested from the age of 12, and sudden cardiac death has been reduced by 89 percent.
CRY, which already offers free screening to more than 30,000 people each year, believes the UK should follow suit.
“Every young person should have the option of being screened at least once,” Cox says. “We’re seeing Mwamba and Eriksen and that gives the wrong idea that these events only involve professional athletes.”
Former Newcastle midfielder Shake Tiote died in 2017 after suffering a heart attack while training while playing for Chinese club Beijing Enterprises.
Calls to charities increased 243 per cent in the week following the collapse of Ericsson.
“We have more than 50,000 people on the waiting list,” Cox adds. It is a critical time. According to Sharma, viruses like Covid may damage the heart muscle and lead to pre-existing arrhythmias.
Malhotra adds: “People will probably have an enlarged heart muscle and push themselves. We are going into uncharted territory.
Elite athletes with Covid undergo a cardiac test, one of several investigations that can reveal problems. However, batons still don’t use all the tools at their disposal, including MRI scans, which can pick up inflammation or scarring.
Fomer Spain captain Iker Casillas struggled during a training session with Porto in May 2019
“The Premier League players deserve a lot,” Sharma says. ‘Why don’t they have every test so you can catch everything?’ The more tests you take, the more answers you get. But you can open a can of worms. If we find a small patch of the scar, the question is: Does that mean he’s in trouble?
Something else? Sharma says medics will “never get permission” from Premier League clubs to subject players to lengthy scans “just to do research”. They will say, “Training and equipment are more important.”
The latest medical research is looking at the “predictors” of sudden death. “What we don’t know is when some of these issues become very clear,” Sharma explains.
Malhotra believes that artificial intelligence can be decisive. So does Casillas. The former Real goalkeeper, who in 2019 suffered a heart attack while training, invested in Spanish startup IDOVEN, which developed a program to detect heart problems earlier.
Closer to home, the JE3 Foundation wants to introduce Justin’s Law, which requires sports and health facilities to have defibrillators. “It will take common sense for people to finally stand up,” Edinburgh says.
After Eriksen’s collapse, the Premier League pledged to donate defibrillators – which cost between £800 and £2,500 – to more than 2,000 grassroots football sites “that doesn’t touch the surface,” adds Edinburgh. “There are millions of pounds in football going towards what? There is naivety about cardiac arrest, a lack of education in this country. Football has started but we still have a long way to go.”