Mariana Kovacevic: The Tale of a Crazy Serbian Doctor

Robin-Van-PersieWith thick black eyeliner, long black hair, and thigh-length boots, placenta doctor Mariana Kovacevic has been likened to Morticia in the Addams Family. Her bizarre placenta treatment got her into the headlines back in November after Robin van Persie visited the Serbian physiotherapist in her Belgrade home to try and help his recovery from an ankle injury. The Dutch striker had learned of the treatment from his Dutch team-mate Orlando Engelaar, who had in turn been made aware of Kovacevic’s unorthodox methods by his Serb PSV team-mate Danko Lazovic. Van Persie was quoted in a Serbian newspaper to have been delighted after his treatment but it quickly became apparent that the treatment didn’t work and his torn ankle ligaments will now keep him out for the rest of the season.

Yet, such apparent failures have not stopped footballers from going to the physiotherapist. Man City players Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany have gone to Kovacevic in the past and it has led to speculation that City were going to take on the Serbian housewife on a more formal basis. It is the physio’s association with Liverpool however, which has been most controversial, as a high number of Liverpool players have gone to see her in the past few months. It seems the Liverpool team have regularly used Kovacevic to treat their injured players and Rafa Benitez believes that the treatments have worked:

Zabaleta told Riera about it. City have sent two, (Vincent) Kompany and Zabaleta beforehand, and they were playing within days. We checked it out when we became aware of the different players who had been there. I must admit we have been surprised with how well it has worked. It means we have players available and training that we expected to be out for several weeks.

Benitez’s belief in the physio has led him to send out injured players Albert Riera, Yossi Benayoun, Fabio Aurelio, Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani to Serbia for treatment. So what does the treatment that Kovacevic uses, involve? She is believed to massage placenta fluid into the injured area and then treat it with an electro-magnetic device. Some are more convinced than others by her treatment with Benitez no doubt believing it has some benefit, while others, such as Frank Lampard who visited the Serbian housewife after picking a thigh injury, unconvinced that the treatment is anything more than a glorified massage using oils. Yossi Benayoun certainly believed however that it had worked:

The doctor has treated a lot of players and seems to be held in very high regard. She explained everything to me beforehand and told me she would be using fluid from a placenta that had come from a woman. Nothing went into the muscle itself. It was just a case of massaging the liquid on to the skin around the affected area. It meant I was able to play again within a fortnight and help the team at an important time. I never envisaged being on the pitch again so soon, and it shows what can be done with this treatment.

The treatment did not work for Albert Riera though and he has subsequently been sidelined with injury. There is certainly a lot of debate to whether such alternative treatments work, and although placenta is known for its high nutritional content, using it to heal injuries is debatable. It seems to be once again that footballers are looking for miracle cures to quickly return to match fitness. Jamie Redknapp has been quoted as saying that he even went to an Osteopath who wanted to take his wisdom teeth out to treat his knee injury, while also travelling to Germany to talk to a specialist who specialized in injecting cockerel crest into the knee. These treatments sound insane but it is the pressures of professional football that force players and clubs alike into seeking out such treatments. Abbie Turner, manager of Bristol University’s Sports Medicine Clinic states:

High-level sportsmen and women will try many alternative treatments, often in a response to return to play or training as quickly as possible. This can sometimes be due to financial pressure as is often the case in football.

Kovacevic apparently has three aliases and four different homes in Serbia. Claims of tax evasion have also circulated after she was rumoured to receive £5,000 per visit from footballers seeking injury cures, while only charging £50 for locals. Her company is apparently not registered and tax inspectors have looked into her secretive business dealings. The Serbian FA has only become aware of her in recent months due to her high profile in the media and have begun to question whether she is a legitimate physiotherapist. They believe her practice should be banned or properly regulated while the Serbian health ministry has also investigated into her qualifications and status as a practising medic.

Yet it has not stopped football clubs utilising her services. The Daily Mail only a couple of weeks ago talked about Liverpool, Man City and CFR Cluj all offering Kovacevic a substantial sum to regularly treat their players. It looks as if that once again, the football world is looking for that magical cure where plainly one doesn’t exist.

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