experts make no sense
I find it increasingly difficult to summon up interest when I hear that football – maybe FIFA, maybe UEFA, maybe the FA – announces that it has appointed yet another committee or panel or advisory group. And that is because these select bodies rarely seem to have much impact.
There must have been an occasion when an expert committee came up with something of fundamental importance that the sport adopted, but at the moment I cannot think of one.
Appointing an expert committee merely poses as action. In reality, it is a tried and trusted method of postponing action. No self-respecting expert committee can be expected to complete its lucubrations in less than a year. Time enough to smother any urgency; even for the original problem to have been forgotten before any report or recommendations appear.
Another quibble I have with many of these studies is that they smack more of laboratory theory than of the realities of the game itself.
A recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is a good example. It is part of a UEFA-sponsored study of injuries. A worthy enough topic, but did we really need a paper put together by a fivemember expert committee, based on 77 reports from 36 top clubs in 17 European countries and featuring 35 scholarly references, to tell us that in a club where the coach and the team doctor work harmoniously there are fewer injuries than in clubs where the two do not get along?
Is there some hidden value in that finding? Unlikely, as by the committee’s own cautious admission it is “unclear that poor communication causes poor injury rates, just that they are seen in association with each other”.
What, then, is the value of this study? In its own words: “This study can provide club medical teams with data to support developing team programmes that underpins developing communications skills.”
The practical evidence produced by the study is that teams with poor communication between medical and coaching staffs had a four to five per cent lower training attendance by players, and less player-availability at matches – 82 per cent as opposed to 88 per cent.
While it would be ridiculous to downplay the importance of increased fitness, one would need to know exactly what these figures meant in terms of team performance. And by that I mean results.
Did the teams with better player-availability do better on the pitch? Even that is not easy to measure. After all, better than what? Their opponents? Their own
expectations? Than they did last year – with different players, no doubt?
I am in no way belittling the work put into this report, but I do find it extraordinary that in a study that emphasises the importance of communication between doctors and coaches, the conclusion is presented entirely from the medical point of view, while the main concern of coaches – wins and losses – is not even mentioned.
We know that coaches and medics are always likely to cross swords over how long it takes to return an injured player to fitness.
For example, imagine that tomorrow is the season’s most important game, a semi-final, and after that, a three-week wait for the Final. Your star player is coming back from injury and as the coach you want him in the semi. The medic says no as he needs a couple more days recovery time. Neither coach
Teams with poor communication between medical and coaching staffs had a four to five per cent lower training attendance by players
nor doctor can be certain he is getting things right, but there is one certainty: the doctor will be cautious.
I would suggest to UEFA, and all the other football bodies that are likely to sponsor and finance medical research on the sport, that this matter of medical caution and the likelihood that it will run counter to the coach’s needs is a suitable topic for research.
Is it possible, for instance, that expert caution is holding young players back? Is that why we see so few teenage stars? Why 60 years elapsed between the 17year-old Pele’s sensational 1958 World Cup and the next teenager to star in a World Cup Final, France’s Kylian Mbappe, earlier this year?
Treatment... Leon Goretzka is attended to by Bayern Munich’s team doctor, Hans Wilhelm MullerWohlfahrt