Hartlepool United interim manager Antony Sweeney discusses the growing concern of players' health after Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic duo collapse
Sometimes events unfold which put life into perspective. Where football takes a space on the shelf. It has happened twice this week.
On Tuesday night there was a prolonged stoppage of play between Sheffield United and Reading as Blades midfielder John Fleck suddenly collapsed on the field unchallenged.
Fleck, 30, was stretchered off following lengthy treatment from the medical staff on hand at the Madejski Stadium and was taken to hospital before being discharged on Wednesday.
Little more than 24-hours after Fleck had been discharged, news broke that Wigan Athletic, and former Hartlepool United striker, Charlie Wyke had collapsed in training in preparation for the Latics’ League One clash with Cambridge United on Tuesday, also requiring immediate medical attention.
Wyke was taken to hospital and the club was quick to confirm the 28-year-old’s collapse was unrelated to COVID-19, that perhaps raises the concern for many even further.
While the intricacies of the incident involving Wyke aren’t as clear as Fleck, who was able to stand at one point whilst wearing an oxygen mask, the concern surrounding players’ health in recent weeks has risen to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
It comes off the back of news that Barcelona, and former Manchester City, star Sergio Aguero looks set to retire having been forced off during a match with Alaves where the Argentine complained of chest pains.
Rewind a little further to the summer and the harrowing footage of Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen’s collapse during Euro 2020 and it has become apparent that this issue is of growing importance for everyone to acknowledge.
While fans, managers, coaches, players and supporters will travel up and down the country this afternoon in search of those much sought-after three points, the health and wellbeing of those out on the pitch in particular will be paramount.
Hartlepool interim manager Antony Sweeney believes there should be more research carried out, he told the Mail: “It’s a massive concern.
“I suppose it’s become more regular over the last few years.
"Something needs to be researched into it. I’ve got no idea, I’m not medically trained to be able to give an opinion on that and I wouldn’t give an opinion on that because it’s not fair. It would be just throwing out words for the sake of throwing out words.
“It’s not something I've directly addressed the players about, but it’s got to be something to consider [going forward].
“I suppose it goes back to the run of fixtures in a way as well, where we’ve got some key players but you’ve got to be mindful that you can’t just flog those key players just because they might do something for us and then put them at risk. That’s why you’ve got squad of players.
“If people are not feeling 100 per cent then sometimes they've got to come out and sometimes that might be to the detriment of the team, but it’s always a hindsight situation. You're always wise after the event.”
While any player who suddenly collapses is worth the thoughts and worry of us all, the news of Wyke’s incident particularly struck a chord with Sweeney who played with the striker during his spell with Carlisle United back in 2015.
Prior to his time at Brunton Park, however, Wyke featured 14 times across all competitions for Colin Cooper’s Pools side on-loan from Middlesbrough with the then 21-year-old scoring four times, including a debut goal in a 2-1 success over AFC Wimbledon.
While Wyke would return to the Riverside Stadium in November that season, ahead of a January transfer to Carlisle, Sweeney remembers his time with the striker, who scored 31 times for Sunderland in League One last season, well.
Sweeney added: “I think most of all you just wish the players who have suffered with it, that they get back to health really quickly, especially Charlie.
“I know Charlie, I’ve played with Charlie a couple of times. It was really concerning to read about it. But I know he’s a strong lad so I’m pretty sure he’ll come through it and he’s got our football club’s best wishes with him.
“When players go down that is a concern. But hopefully there’s very clever people out there who can research it and get to the bottom of it,” he added.
Sweeney takes his side to Port Vale this afternoon looking to arrest a run of four straight defeats in the league but in light of events this week the Pools interim manager admits he will be taking no chances with his squad of players at Vale Park.
“We’ve got a duty of care to all the players to try and keep them as healthy and as fit as possible throughout the season and throughout their careers. So we won't take any risks with the players, but in terms of the wider world of football it’s a concern," he added.
While the result at 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon is often the most integral part of the week as far as football is concerned, perhaps this weekend there will be a little more care and acknowledgement to the players who provide us all with such entertainment that they can walk off the field on their own accord.
These individuals are fit and healthy athletes, but circumstances this week have highlighted just how much these things can happen to any of us.
Sometimes, football gets put into perspective.