Kevin Doyle’s decision to retire aged 34 should set "alarm bells" ringing within the FA, according to the brain injury association Headway.
The Irish forward released a statement last week confirming his retirement on medical grounds due to headaches brought on by heading footballs.
Doyle also revealed he had suffered two concussions during the course of this MLS season playing for his club, the Colorado Rapids. He also stated that he had experienced “numerous” more in a career that took in spells at St Patrick’s Athletic and Cork City in Ireland, as well as Reading, Wolverhampton Wanderers, QPR and Crystal Palace in England.
Doyle's career included 164 Premier League games for Reading and Wolves, in which he scored 37 goals.
“The strength of the link between football and degenerative neurological injury is still unclear but we have long petitioned the football authorities to instigate meaningful independent research into the possible link between heading footballs and brain injury,” said Peter McCabe, chief executive of Headway, the brain injury association.
“Families of those former players who were heading the old, heavy leather footballs deserve answers as to whether or not their careers contributed to their health in later life. Equally, however, we need large-scale research that has meaningful conclusions for today’s game.
“The general opinion seems to be that lightweight modern footballs are much less likely to cause harm, but this is unproven.
“Certainly, you’ll find some researchers who suggest even lightweight footballs can cause sub-concussive blows due to the greater velocity at which these balls can travel. The question is, do these very minor impacts have a long-term consequence? Simply, the answer at this stage is we don’t know.
“Ultimately, we need more evidence and we do feel the authorities have been dragging their feet on this for too long. They certainly have questions to answer and Kevin Doyle’s retirement should be setting off alarm bells within the FA.”
A study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica earlier this year showed football players may be prone to long-term brain damage due to repeated blows to the head. The research, conducted in collaboration between University College London and Cardiff University, involved the examination of six people who played football for an average of a quarter of a century.
In post-mortems it was discovered that all six developed dementia in their later years, while four showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE - a progressive, degenerative brain disease.
The former England international Jeff Astle died in 2002 aged only 59 and was confirmed in 2014 to be the first British professional footballer to die from CTE.
In March, the FA and PFA invited “independent researchers” to present their proposals on whether or not football players are disproportionally affected by degenerative brain injuries but definitive research and results are still a long way off.
The potential dangers of continuous, long-term sub-concussive blows stemming from heading the ball has already prompted US Soccer to outlaw heading for players up to the under-11 age group. The under-12 and under-13 age groups should be “limited to a maximum of 30 minutes of heading training per week, with no more than 15-20 headers per player, per week”.
The FA has been approached for comment.