Thursday 26 April 2018

Richard Sadlier: It's better to stay quiet when the alternative is ridicule

English football remains suspicious of new ideas, especially foreign ones, writes Richard Sadlier

Sacked Fulham manager Felix Magath had a point when he said embracing ideas has never been a strong point of English football. Clive Rose/Getty Images
Sacked Fulham manager Felix Magath had a point when he said embracing ideas has never been a strong point of English football. Clive Rose/Getty Images
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

I was by no means a model professional when I played football. There were many things I did which would have caused me considerable pain and embarrassment if the club had found out.

I often found myself in scenarios which would have appalled the staff at the club so the obvious thing to do was to say nothing.

One such example was a secret weekly visit I made to someone. The relief I felt every time I was with them made the two hour journey worthwhile. They knew what I did for a living and understood the importance of discretion. It remained our little secret, but now I'm comfortable enough with where I am in my life to come clean. Yes, I was seeing a practitioner of alternative treatment in the hope of staying fit and injury-free for as long as possible.

He practiced amatsu, and to this day I still can't describe what was involved. I didn't understand his explanations as to how and why it was effective, but I always felt better when I left. I didn't look for the science or the research that underpinned his work, but I felt the benefits so I kept going back. I felt as good physically as I ever did and I suffered far fewer injuries than normal during that time. You might assume I would have been happy to tell the club and that they'd be more than willing to embrace the new ideas, but you'd be wrong.

Felix Magath lost his job as Fulham manger last week. Presumably there were many reasons for this, the most obvious one being their results on the pitch since his appointment. Some, like former captain Brede Hangeland, said Magath's methods were unsuitable for the culture in which he was operating. "His main tool is to try to mentally and physically batter his players and hopefully get some results out of that," said Hangeland after he left the club during the summer. "Is that the right fit for English football? I don't think so personally," he added.

Magath had other tools though, and one in particular has dominated the coverage of his departure from Fulham. He too was open to alternative methods to prevent injury and promote healing. According to claims last week, Magath once asked Hangeland to place an alcohol-soaked lump of cheese on his injured thigh. He suggested he should leave it there overnight, and at some stage to ring his mother in the hope his injury would heal quicker as a result of the positive loving energy that would presumably be coming from the other end of the phone. You can imagine the chuckling and head-shaking throughout football when this was made public. So much so, that it would be hard to imagine him finding work in England again.

Magath, while saying the story had been sensationalised, said he had no regrets about his time at Fulham or the methods he used. Quite the opposite, in fact. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I am convinced that English football has something to learn from German qualities. Sadly, they're not that prepared to listen." It's easy to be dismissive of one who might use cheese in this way but he certainly has a point there. Embracing new ideas has never been a strong point of English football, perhaps even less so when it comes from an outsider.

I didn't tell any of the staff at Millwall that I was seeing an alternative therapist. It wouldn't have been worth the hassle. Some would have accused me of undermining their professional capabilities by going elsewhere for help while others would have just mocked me. Independent thought is never promoted within clubs, but back then and there it would have been crushed pretty swiftly.

There was never a reason to tell any of the players either. In any case, there were established methods within the club that had been effective for years. Who was I to question them? So I said nothing.

That was well over a decade ago, but the resistance to new ideas is still there. Magath's awful record at Fulham doesn't mean he was wrong in saying what he said but it makes it easier for those who disagree to discredit his view.

For the record, Magath's suggestion was based on an old wives' tale about placing Quack (German cheese) on an injured area. And a quick internet search tells me amatsu is a form of Japanese physical therapy that has evolved over 5,000 years. During a treatment, specific areas of the body are gently pushed and pulled to release tension and tightness, thereby restoring the normal flow of blood and lymph to promote growth, repair and restoration of normal functions.

Playing for a club like Millwall was challenging enough, so thank God I never tried to explain that back in the day.

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