Tuesday 20 March 2018

Injury ignorance keeping players in treatment room

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

After spending months in the treatment room getting nowhere, I was sent to a particular clinic in London for treatment on a pelvic injury. The rehab work required almost 40 minutes of mind-numbing, tedious exercises which I had to do before and after I trained. Because of the lack of appreciation within the club for what I had to do, I ended up doing them at home each morning once I had returned to squad training after 11 months out. It was the only way of ensuring I wouldn't be interrupted. I could take being mocked by the players, but when members of staff were getting in the way I knew there was no other option.

One coach would regularly hammer me for spending time in the gym saying it contributed to the frequency of my injuries. Apparently, it was my attitude that was all wrong, and the sooner I got out of the gym the better. The value of maintaining the programme long after my return to training was lost on him. In many people's minds, you are either fit or injured. And if you are fit, you just don't belong in the gym.

Thankfully things have moved on in professional football, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The prevention and treatment of injuries are slowly being recognised for their importance today.

Take last season's Premier League title race as an example. There are many explanations for City's title win, but their greatest advantage was in the last place many would think to look.

Research carried out at the end of the season showed the extent to which every Premier League squad was affected by injuries. Alex Ferguson once claimed to have some of the best sports medical staff in the world at Manchester United, but last season they dealt with more injuries than any other club. In all, the United squad suffered 1,681 days lost through injury. In contrast, City's squad had to deal with just 186. You can spend what you like on new players, but they're of no use if they're regularly unavailable.

United are opening a £13m state-of-the-art medical complex in their Carrington training ground next month but their injury problems have continued into this season. Chris Smalling returned to training last week, but Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Ashley Young are still unavailable.

Impact injuries are hard to avoid (like the one suffered by Wayne Rooney recently) but it is now believed that a relatively small amount of preparation can make a big difference. For example, FIFA have developed a complete warm-up programme aimed at preventing injuries in males and females aged 14 and over, called FIFA 11+. Using scientific study to prove its effectiveness, it claims to reduce the number of injuries by 30-50 per cent among those who engage the programme twice a week.

The stats are impressive, but it's not enough just to get the staff on board. Most clubs have fitness coaches and strength and conditioning staff, but not all players fully grasp the importance of their work. If you're not conditioned properly, you'll break down in games and if you've trained too hard the same risk applies. It's that straightforward.

Smalling may feature on United's bench this afternoon at Newcastle, an indication of how short they are in defence. He would be nowhere near consideration for this game if United had cover elsewhere, but saying no to an opportunity after such a lengthy

absence is very hard to do. The area I consistently fell down at was timing my return to matches correctly. Too keen to get back and too dishonest to say how I really was, my enthusiasm got the better of me every time. And more often than not it cost me. United can ill-afford that to happen to Smalling if he's needed today. Despite the evidence that injuries can be prevented with basic exercises, the culture in professional football is still one of resistance.

Exercises of this type are boring and can be seen as a waste of time by those who don't understand their effectiveness. When things are going their way, most players just want a ball at their feet and have little time for anything else. Even after a lengthy spell in the treatment room, it's so easy to convince yourself that it will never happen again as soon as you return. Like many things in life, fitness is only fully appreciated the moment it's taken away.

Professional football mocks anything it perceives as weakness, even when those things are designed to make a player stronger. Ignorance might be just as damaging as a dodgy hammer.


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