‘I don’t know the answer’: Bruce torn on heading debate before landmark game

The Newcastle manager, Steve Bruce, will take a perhaps unusually keen interest in a charity match between former professionals and semi-professionals staged at Spennymoor Town FC in County Durham on Sunday.

Organised by the charity Head for Change, a body investigating football’s links with dementia, it will be the first adult 11-a-side game in the UK to feature significant heading restrictions.

After only headers within the penalty area are permitted during the first half, the second 45 minutes will involve a ban on all heading before participants, including the former Sunderland midfielder Gavin McCann and former Middlesbrough midfielder Craig Hignett, report on their experiences.

“I don’t know that I’d have had the career I’ve had without heading,” Bruce said. “I don’t know what the answer is.” The former Manchester United captain and central defender, whose autobiography was entitled Heading to Victory, is extremely worried about increasing links between heading footballs and dementia but also frets that the game “would not be the same spectacle without it”.

Although Bruce is anxious to see more research on whether barring children from heading may help prevent future dementia cases, he is most immediately concerned by a mini injury crisis before Newcastle travel to Watford on Saturday seeking their first Premier League win.

A freak toe injury sustained in training has added the midfielder Joe Willock to a casualty list also featuring Callum Wilson, Jamaal Lascelles, Martin Dubravka, Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett. At least Bruce, contemplating a switch from a back five to a back four, has Allan Saint-Maximin fit and on his side.

The French forward has been in superlative form this season and Newcastle fans dread to think where their team would be without him. “With his pace, his power and his balance, Allan’s something different,” said Bruce. “He does things which nobody else in the Premier League can do. It’s all natural to him.”

Saint-Maximin recently signed a new six-year contract but Sean Longstaff’s deal expires at the end of the season and Bruce is aware that the midfielder’s former St James’ Park manager Rafael Benítez is keen to relocate Longstaff to Everton.

“Sean’s playing very well at the moment; I’ve been very, very pleased with him,” said Bruce, who has not always seen eye to eye with Longstaff. “But the contract details are for other people to sort out.”

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