Versatility is key at the lower levels
Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time liaising with medical staff at other clubs where players of ours are either being sold or going on loan – as well as us receiving players during the hectic transfer window. The timing of this window is a right pain as it closes the day before a league game so, invariably, teams are on the road and getting hold of people is an absolute nightmare.
Doing a medical late on a Friday night, with little or no medical information, is no fun. Why do they leave it to the last minute? It got me thinking about how medical departments have changed over the years. There is an enormous difference between medical personnel in clubs in the Premier League and the lower divisions.
My first role in charge of a team was at a League 1 club, where I was the only full-time medical person employed for the first team. We had a part-time masseur for games, a fellow physio looking after the youth teams and I saw the club doctor only when someone was sick or on matchday.
At many lower-league clubs, things are still the same. A physio’s role is multifaceted. It not only involves looking after the injured players on matchday and rehabilitating those unable to train or play but they may also be involved with the fitness of the players – taking sessions or monitoring their workload, offering nutritional advice, doing a bit of chiropody, cutting off hard skin, as well as literally taking players to appointments to see specialists out of hours.
This job also extends to helping out with kit and, sometimes, making sure that the players get some lunch after training. I remember many a trip down to the nearest sandwich shop to buy the squad’s lunch. They were paying, though!
Things couldn’t be more different at the bigger Premier League clubs. Many medical departments, looking after a squad of up to 30 first-team players, number around 15 full-time staff. This includes doctors, physiotherapists, masseurs and sports scientists, together with chiropodists, podiatrists, osteopaths, yoga and pilates teachers coming in on a part-time basis.
Everyone’s role is specialised. For example, if the club employs four physios for the first team, they may have differing specialties in their field of expertise. Some may speciailise in matchday cover, with qualifications in advanced life support and acute injury management, while others may specialise in rehabilitation using their manual skills, utilising hydrotherapy or even be experts in late-stage rehab, ensuring the player is able to return to full play without risk of reinjury.
At the top Premier clubs, there may be more than five people all doing the same job that one person at a lower-league club is fulfilling. Is it better? Well, there is a lot more quality in the care and nothing left unturned. Having said that, I enjoyed my time in the lower divisions immensely, perhaps more than at the Premier level. Although, to be fair, the money was not as good!