Daily Mail by Daniel Matthews & David Coverdale

Sergio Aguero was waiting for his chance since he turned 14. ‘One day Barcelona will surely notice me,’ he would say. Aguero made the call almost two decades later and opened last month his Barca account at El Clasico, against Real Madrid.

It wasn’t supposed to be his final bow. However, six days later the striker experienced chest pains in his match against Alaves. Now, after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, Aguero’s career looks to be over at the age of 33.

The match comes five months following the heartbreaking collapse of Christian Eriksen, and just three weeks since Emil Palsson (Icelandic midfielder) was admitted to hospital. Both experienced cardiac arrests while on the pitch.

Here, Ryan Bowman from Shrewsbury is now back in goals following palpitations last month against Ipswich. 

The heartbeat was at 250 beats per hour and doctors had no choice but to shock the system.

Some people never have another chance. Dylan Rich, 17, died in September after suffering a cardiac arrest while playing for the FA Youth Cup in Nottinghamshire.

The Barcelona striker was treated by medical staff but managed to leave the pitch unaided

Although the Barcelona striker received medical attention, he was able to walk off the pitch without assistance. 

There is enough to stop tragedy from happening again at a baseball field. SportsmailHe has talked to many relatives, experts, and campaigners. They warn today:

  • More lives will be lost unnecessarily because of football’s naivety around cardiac arrest.
  • Clubs and doctors often disagree on whether or not players should be allowed to retire from potentially deadly conditions. Medical advice is sometimes ignored.
  • Top teams do not perform every test available, even though elite athletes’ hearts are at an increased risk.

Research published in 2018 found the risk of elite footballers suffering sudden cardiac death was ‘much higher than believed’. One in every 260 footballers has a serious cardiac condition.

Manchester City midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe died while playing for Cameroon in 2003

Marc-Vivien Foe was a Manchester City midfielder who died playing for Cameroon.

German newspaper Berliner Zeitung claimed recently that 24 footballers, coaches or officials collapsed with suspected heart issues between July 11 and October 15 — one every four days. 

A sudden cardiac arrest is the most common cause of death for athletes younger than 30 years old in the UK. 600 people perish each year from undiagnosed cardiac conditions.

‘If you’ve got a car with something not quite right with the engine, and you decide to drive it across the desert, you’re putting it in the worst-case scenario,’ says Dr Steven Cox of Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). ‘This is the key. It’s not normal what athletes do.’

Charlie Edinburgh was present in his kitchen in Copenhagen when Eriksen collapsed on the ground in June. The 28-year-old watched alongside his mother Kerri as life left the midfielder’s body. 

Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest against Finland at Euro 2020

Christian Eriksen (Danish midfielder) suffered a heart attack against Finland during Euro 2020

‘All that came to my head was memories of dad,’ Edinburgh says. 

‘All of the pain and suffering we’ve endured.’ In 2019, former Tottenham defender and Leyton Orient manager Justin Edinburgh died aged 49 following a cardiac arrest at a gym. ‘It just brought back horrific memories,’ Charlie adds. ‘There are no words that can explain the shock. It’s like a light switch. One minute they’re here, the next they’re gone.’

Eriksen’s heart was flicked back on during 13 minutes of emergency treatment. The Denmark’s midfielder is now fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) and hopes to be back in action.

Through the JE3 Foundation, Edinburgh fights to ensure his family — rather than Eriksen’s — is the exception. ‘Cardiac arrests are not going away — that’s the scary thing,’ he says. ‘This is happening on a regular basis. There is so much more that can be done by the wider footballing community.’

The Denmark midfielder's heart was flicked back on after 13 minutes of treatment

After 13 minutes of treatment, the heart rate of the Denmark midfielder was restored. 

The foundation has been ‘inundated’ by clubs and individuals within sport keen for education and training.

Tottenham Defender Japhet Tanganga was present at one of their CPR Workshops; Wolves players needed a basic Life Support session after the fall of a Newcastle supporter.

Edinburgh, in football however, regrets an opportunity lost. ‘How many more instances are going to need to occur?’ he asks. ‘There has to be something done as more lives are going to be lost unnecessarily.’

This isn’t a new problem, after all. Marc-Vivien Foe died and Cheick Tippee also succumbed while playing. 

Fabrice Muamba is one of the lucky ones. Conor Gallagher, a Crystal Palace midfielder, needed heart surgery after feeling his heart beat abnormally and becoming ill.

Ajax defender Daley Blind was fitted with an ICD for ‘heart muscle inflammation’ in 2019. It was activated last season when Daley blind fell during preseason.

There are concerns football’s ever-increasing speed and ever-bulging calendar could be putting vulnerable players at more risk. 

‘We are seeing more and more issues coming to the fore and it is still underreported to the general public,’ says cardiologist Dr Aneil Malhotra, who works with England and Premier League clubs.

Former Leyton Orient manager Justin Edinburgh died after suffering a cardiac arrest in 2019

Justin Edinburgh, a Leyton Orient former manager, passed away in 2019. He suffered a cardiac arrest.

To try to detect heart problems before it is too late, every player at England’s 92 league clubs is now screened at 16, 18, 20 and 25. Players have an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity, as well as an ultrasound. These are used to detect the most severe conditions.

Nnamdi Ofoborh (midfielder) was injured after his summer move to Rangers from Bournemouth when doctors discovered a potential issue with Ofoborh’s heart. Not everything is possible to be repaired.

Eriksen was subject to a screening at Spurs every year and there were no signs of trouble. ‘You can screen until the cows come home,’ says Malhotra. ‘But a small proportion of people may slip through the net.’ When issues are detected, the majority can be treated or cured. However, it is not possible to treat all.

‘At that point we have to make a call on whether that athlete should carry on playing,’ says Professor Sanjay Sharma, chair of the FA’s expert cardiac consensus panel, who also screened Eriksen at Spurs. ‘This is where the sporting and medical communities are a bit divided. Who am I to say: you will not play again?’

Only a warning is all that a medic can do. ‘It’s a very difficult conversation,’ explains Sharma. ‘A conversation that can just be ignored. “Thank you very much, Doc, but I’m going to carry on playing”. There’s a lot of that.’ 

This leaves the employer with all responsibility. Sportsmail After discovering that the League One player had been close to signing with a Premier League team, a heart problem was revealed. He was signed by another top-flight team.

‘As an employer you have to show some responsibility,’ Sharma says. ‘If something did go wrong, people have got to be able to go back and say that they had done everything properly. 

Friction arises when you get some cardiologist saying, “Surely someone has to take the lead with this”. Someone who understands what could go wrong should be able to turn round and say, “He shouldn’t have played”.’

Ajax defender Daley Blind collapsed during training pre-season last year but recovered

Daley blind, Ajax’s defender, collapsed in training last year. He was able to recover.

It happens in Italy. Eriksen is banned from playing if they’re at greater risk for sudden cardiac arrest. There is no such policy here — nor is cardiac screening mandatory across organised sport. 

Italy has a 12-year-old test for all kids involved in grassroots sporting activities. Sudden cardiac death rates have been cut by 89 percent.

The UK should be following the lead of CRY who provide screening for free to over 30,000 people each year.

‘Every young person should have the choice to be screened at least once,’ Cox says. ‘We see Muamba and Eriksen and that gives the misconception that these events only involve professional athletes.’

Former Newcastle midfielder Cheick Tiote died in 2017 after suffering a cardiac arrest in training while playing for Chinese outfit Beijing Enterprises Club

Cheick Tiote, a former Newcastle midfielder, died after suffering cardiac arrest while training for Beijing Enterprises Club.

Calls to the charity increased by 243 per cent in the week following Eriksen’s collapse.

‘We have over 50,000 people on a waiting list,’ Cox adds. This is critical. Sharma said viruses such as Covid could cause injury to heart muscles, and can predispose to people to irregular rhythms.

Malhotra adds: ‘People could potentially have inflation of the heart muscle and are pushing themselves. We are going into uncharted territory.’

The cardiac tests are performed on elite athletes with Covid. It is just one of the many diagnostics that may be used to diagnose problems. Clubs don’t use every tool at their disposal. MRI scans could reveal inflammation and scarring.

Fomer Spain captain Iker Casillas suffered during a training session with Porto in May 2019

Fomer Spain captain Iker Kasillas was injured during training with Porto on May 2019.

‘Premier League players are worth so much,’ Sharma says. ‘Why don’t they have every single test so you can pick up everything? The more tests you do, the more answers you’ll get. You can also open the door to a whole new world of possibilities. If we found a little speck of scar, the question is: does that mean he’s in trouble?’

The other issue is: Medics ‘would never get permission’ from Premier League clubs to put players through lengthy scans ‘just to do research,’ Sharma says. ‘They will say, “Training and fixtures are more important”.’ 

The latest medical research looks at ‘predictors’ of sudden death. ‘What we don’t know,’ Sharma explains, ‘is when some of these issues become very apparent.’

Artificial intelligence is a possibility, Malhotra thinks. So does Casillas. Former Real goalkeeper and heart attack victim, Casillas invested in Spanish start up IDOVEN. This software helps detect early signs of heart trouble.

Closer to home, the JE3 Foundation want to introduce Justin’s Law, requiring sport and health facilities to house defibrillators. ‘It’s going to take common sense for people to finally stand up,’ Edinburgh says.

After Eriksen’s collapse, the Premier League vowed to donate defibrillators — which cost £800 to £2,500 — to more than 2,000 grassroots football sites‘That’s not even touching the surface,’ Edinburgh adds. ‘There are millions of pounds in football that go towards what? There’s a naivety around cardiac arrest, a lack of education in this country. Football has come on but there’s still a long road ahead.’