One of the scariest moments of Tottenham’s 0-1 loss to Ajax in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals came in the first half after a sickening mid-air head-to-head collision left both Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld on the ground not moving. Jan got the worst of it — while going up for a headed shot on goal he accidentally rammed his nose into the back of Toby’s head. He bled profusely for several minutes and was attended to by Spurs physios.
But that wasn’t the worst of it — Vertonghen got up and after getting looked over by the medical staff and questioned by the match official, he was cleared (after a jersey change) to come back on the pitch. But it was very obvious the moment he started to walk that he wasn’t doing well. Jan took himself off, then nearly fainted on the touchline, and required the help of two trainers to walk down the tunnel.
It was not a fun moment to watch in near time and the obvious conclusion was that Jan suffered some sort of concussion. He was rightfully subbed off for Moussa Sissoko.
We do have an update on Jan’s condition, and according to Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur, it’s a good one — Jan apparently is doing well, with no serious or lasting damage sustained, as far as anyone can tell.
Vertonghen passed all concussion tests. More tests tomorrow. Doctors allowed him to go home. He said: “No concussion, nothing broken.”— Kristof Terreur (@HLNinEngeland) April 30, 2019
Skeptical about this report? Well, you should be! What we saw on the pitch with Vertonghen getting super woozy and then having to be helped back off the field and down the tunnel was super scary. We already know that English football’s concussion protocols, while admittedly starting to get better, are still super suspect. You don’t have to look very hard to find examples where players continued to play after head injuries when they had no business being on the field. Hugo Lloris had one of those incidents a few years ago against Everton when he was kicked in the head by Romelu Lukaku and somehow got the go-ahead to keep playing.
However, while you absolutely should be skeptical of a player saying “I’m fine” after ramming his nose into the back of Toby Alderweireld’s skull, “passed all concussion tests” does seem to have some weight of medical advice behind it. (It’s whether or not those concussion tests are enough that’s the main issue.)
I heard some speculation that Jan might have been woozy from blood loss while he was down on the pitch and not from anything concussion related. I have no idea if that’s true, but it is a possibility. And to be clear I’m 100% fine with being very conservative with Jan’s health and safety in this case. He should be thoroughly checked out, and if it’s up to me probably shouldn’t play against Bournemouth.
But it’s not up to me, nor any of us. And ultimately we’ll need to take the recommendations of the Spurs medical staff at their word that they’re doing the right thing for Vertonghen. I certainly hope Jan is as fine as he says he is. We’ll just have to wait and see for now.
Update: Mauricio Pochettino addressed Vertonghen’s situation in the post match press conference. Here are his words, without commentary.
“Our medical staff followed the protocol. I was never involved. The decision [to let Jan return] was the doctor’s. The referee asked, and the action was we needed to take him out because he did not feel well.
“I don’t know, [Jan] has walked out of the stadium now. Hope that he is well, you need to keep eyes watching him and monitor him because it was a big knock but. At the moment he is okay.
“In the moment you are focused on the game and it is difficult to think too much. In this moment you must let the doctor or the medical staff do his job. Of course, I was worried that is normal because for me the most important is the health of the player before the game. In that moment for me the doctor decided it is okay. I am never going to be involved, I wasn’t in the past and I won’t be in the future. For me it is always the health of the player before the game, if from the early moment they say to me ‘change, change’ I am not going to doubt about that. For me in that type of situation the medical staff and doctor are the boss on the decision, I only need to listen and hear what they say and take the decision. Never am I going to debate or question the decision of the medical staff.”