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Sports

Opinion: Gentner case shines light on player safety in football

Stuttgart's Christian Gentner suffered a shocking set of injuries against Wolfsburg on Matchday 4, but no foul was given. DW's Jonathan Harding wonders how safe are players.

Christian Gentner jumped up for a ball and probably doesn't remember what happened next.

Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels went for the same ball but in doing so his knee collided with Gentner's face. The Stuttgart captain broke his eye socket, nose and jaw and was left severly concussed. Stuttgart head coach Hannes Wolf was concerned that permanent damage had been done. The club's doctor even had to take Gentner's tongue out of his throat to stop him from choking.

The only result of this was eight and minutes of added time. No foul was given. Casteels was not booked. Gentner has since been operated on and is expected to make a full recovery, but the concern very much remains.

Referee Guido Winkmann let play continue and reported the situation as an "unfortunate collision" according to Helmut Krug, the head of referees at the German FA. Casteels hadn't seen Gentner. Video referee Deniz Aytekin was consulted and confirmed Winkmann's perspective. "By the letter of the law, the decision is marginal, but reasonable," Krug said afterwards.

Deutsche Welle Englisch Fußball Jonathan Harding (DW/P.Henriksen)

DW's Jonathan Harding

Reasonable? This comes from a man who after Manuel Neuer clattered Gonzalo Higuain in the 2014 World Cup final said "Germany were very lucky" because "while the goalkeeper played the ball, he caught the opponent. For us, that's a penalty and a yellow card."

Casteels did more than "catch" his opponent. He put his safety at risk. A referee's job might well be the toughest job in the sport, but there's a striking difference between a brutal foul and an unfortunate collision.

"If that's a foul, you have to change the coaching at youth level from five, six years old," Casteels said afterwards. At that age, "you're taught to take the left knee with you if you jump up with your right. 99 percent of goalkeepers do it that."

Casteels isn't wrong that most goalkeepers have a technique for catching the ball, but it doesn't regularly involve colliding with opposition players - and when it does they're punished for it.

It's time to stop shying away from responsibility or talking about intent. It's not enough to just talk about player safety, actions must follow. In Gentner's case they didn't and that was unacceptable.