The crucial role taken by club doctors in football prompted UEFA to organise the inaugural UEFA Elite Club Medical Forum in Nyon.
The forum was an ideal opportunity to emphasise that club doctors are now part of a 'team behind a team,' working in tandem with physiotherapists, masseurs and advisors on a variety of specialist issues, and to stress that their views should never be underestimated. "I admire you," the medics were told by Dr Michel D'Hooghe, chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee. "When I started my career as a team doctor, I received only one question every week from my coach: 'Can he play next Saturday?'"
"Times have changed, at FIFA and UEFA level, and in the clubs," Dr D'Hooghe added. "We gradually saw that football asks more than whether a player can play the next game. We started talking about things such as dermatology, physiology, psychology, pharmacology, hygiene, diets – and then came the internationalisation of sports, and we started talking about jetlag and football at altitude. The club doctor now has a team of specialists to help him. Football medicine has also become a team sport, and club doctors have to supervise all these aspects of sports medicine."
UEFA and élite European clubs have been co-operating on a UEFA Champions League injury study, directed from UEFA's side by Prof. Jan Ekstrand, the UEFA Medical Committee's second vice-chairman. "This should be a win-win situation," he said. "The gain for UEFA is that we get information about injury risk and injury patterns in professional football. We hope that this is also an advantage for you, because you want to keep your players healthy and reduce injuries, and we know that sharing information in an international [medical] network is one of the most effective ways of preventing injuries."
The study ascertained that hamstring injuries were the most common ailment at élite level, mostly due to the intensity and speed of the game. In a 25-player squad, ten players on average suffered thigh injuries, seven of which were related to the hamstring. The forum debated issues such as the factors both on and off the pitch which cause injuries, with training workload cited as an example. A situation may arise where a new coach might alter the amount of training, therefore subjecting players to changes in their physical work.
Risks of flying
The question was raised as to whether frequent flying to matches might also increase the risk of injury to a player. Such factors will continue to be examined as part of the ongoing injury study. Discussions were held on how club doctors can make their voices heard more effectively, such as being present within a club's higher management structures.
UEFA has intensified its anti-doping work in recent years, and the club doctors were given a briefing by the chairman of UEFA's anti-doping panel, Jacques Liénard, on activities in the field. These included measures undertaken at UEFA EURO 2008™ (click here), anti-doping statistics from last term and the drive to keep doping out of the game this season (click here). In particular, educational sessions will continue to be held at youth tournaments to warn young players of the dangers of drugs.
"The 'we' mentality is vital," said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh. "Football is competitive, but it's clear that everyone must pull together – coaches, doctors, the football authorities – when it comes to education and development in the medical sector. It's about constant progress. Sports science has become very important – its impact has increased considerably over the past 25 years."
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