Paul Gard­ner

ex­perts make no sense

World Soccer - - Contents - Paul GARD­NER

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

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