Why Manchester United’s NEW facilities must focus on prevention
The prospect of a long and ultimately debilitating injuring list, is one that every club in the Premier League will have to deal with at some point this term. But after a season in which they found themselves with the most atrocious injury record in the division, it appears that Manchester United are looking to take things into their own hands.
Work is well under way at the Red Devils’ Carrington training ground to develop a new £13million, state-of-the-art medical facility, in partnership with Japanese technology giant Toshiba. According to The Telegraph, the facility’s remit is to produce quicker and more private injury diagnosis on site, rather than rely on nearby hospitals in the region, encompassing MRI scanners and the like to boot.
But such was the damning nature of last season’s injury statistics, the timing of this development, set to open before the end of the year, doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.
Last season saw United pick up 39 injuries that lasted for duration of two weeks or more. The Premier League average is around 20. With United already suffering a defensive injury crisis at the start of the season – in which Michael Carrick had to play centre half – that would have most other teams baulking, the new facility couldn’t open fast enough.
Although United’s training ground remains one of the most advanced facilities in the country, 12 years have since passed since Carrington’s opening and in the world of medical advancement and sports science, that’s quite a long time. There’s nothing more to suggest that the current facelift to their medical department is anything more than an upgrade, rather than a dramatic reinvention.
But this isn’t the first time that United, or indeed the realms of English football, have come under fire for their track record with injury and injury prevention.
When Owen Hargreaves ended his injury-ravaged spell at United and moved to rivals Manchester City in 2011, he aimed a parting shot at the medical staff at his former club. Hargreaves made a series of startling claims, suggesting that the prolotherapy injections he was administered for his tendinitis issues equated to ‘guinea pig’ treatment. But perhaps more concerning, was the claim that he was made to star his final game against Wolves, when he made the medical staff well aware of a hamstring complaint. A hamstring that subsequently gave way after five minutes.
Of course, Hargreaves’ chronic knee issues are an extremely rare and difficult problem to manage, but it certainly gave an interesting insight into the medical travails at United.
Because similarly with Hargreaves, the long-term and often terrible injuries such as the knee ligament damage that Nemaja Vidic suffered last season, are relatively rare. A club can do little to prevent someone breaking their leg or the chronic bowel condition that Darren Fletcher has fought back from. But the majority of their 39 ‘significant’ problems, weren’t a series of cruciate ligament ruptures; they were muscles strains and pulls.
According to the Daily Mail, this is something that the Fergie has not been best pleased with and is perhaps an area in which both his side and several others in the country, could do well to improve on.
Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, famous to most on these shores as the former assistant to the late former Wales boss, Gary Speed, has been an outspoken critic of English training regimes. But his pedigree within the game goes a lot further than his work with the Welsh national side, and he’s been employed by Frank Rijkaard during his time at Barcelona, Guus Hiddink during his spell with Chelsea and a host of international tournaments with the Netherlands, Russia and South Korea respectively. He believes that many clubs are failing in the preparation of their training and that by overworking players and ignoring their previous injury records, they are catalysing disaster.
Indeed, Verheijen points to the change in his countryman Arjen Robben’s fortunes when he switched Real Madrid to Bayern Munich, following a reputation as something of a ‘man of glass’, during his time with Chelsea.
“What they did [with Robben] was reduce his training volume and all of a sudden, he was not injured anymore. The question is, ‘Was he a player of glass or was he trained by coaches of glass? Robben and all the other explosive players like Robin van Persie, when they make an action they use more energy than other players.
“If they train the same volume as the other players their energy expenditure is twice as high as the other players. So you have to reduce the training volume by 50 per cent, which is what Bayern Munich did with his programme.”
Verheijen’s ideology is that fatigue due to overtraining, is the cause of many muscle related injuries and that a player’s injury history, style of play and body composition, should all be considered when devising a training routine. His methods, coined with a typically Dutch phrase in Periodisation, can be controversial and his claim that 80% of injuries could be nullified by doing so, are open to scrutiny. But his beliefs certainly offer some food for thought.
Because the facilities of a medical facility are only as good as the methods in which they are being utilised. Some have suggested that the influx of investment at United can bring their facilities up to a par with AC Milan’s fabled Milanello complex. But Milanello is more a laboratory, than just a series of expensive medical instruments. It’s there to prevent injury, to achieve ultimate physical performance, in complete tandem with managerial selection.
Manchester United will be looking to scratch something of a very irritating itch indeed, when their new medical facility opens. But the ethos needs to be centred around preventing injury – not just addressing it.
Do you believe anything can be done to stop the incessant flow of injuries at Old Trafford? Just bad luck or something a little deeper? Let me know how you feel on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.