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Spate of devastating knee injuries prove importance of preparation in modern football

Spate of devastating knee injuries prove importance of preparation in modern football


Goal have teamed up with adidas body care to look at just how vitally important the preparation phase is for the world's best players to reach their peak performance levels

Top stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo performing at their peak make the game look easy, but behind every global superstar is a huge amount of preparation.

The current demands of the game often require teams to play three times a week, with players running distances of 10km a game, and thus avoiding injury and maintaining peak fitness is crucial to the success of any professional.

Training demands have therefore changed enormously in recent years, with Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs able to explain the differences he has overseen in his 20 years playing at the top level.

"It [training] has changed a lot. We've got the swimming pool, the gym, the big sports hall, an indoor astro-turf pitch... we've got everything you could want really," he told MUTV’s 'Inside Carrington' show.

"Back when I started it was the manager, his assistant, Kiddo [Brian Kidd] and Archie [Knox] before that. Then you had a physio and that was it really. Now, we’ve got an assistant manager, a coach, fitness coaches and specialists in weights and running, so things have changed a lot."

England's new St George's Park complex is another example of the state-of-the-art facilities in place in elite level sport to ensure footballers of varying age levels have the best possible preparation.

The Football Association's centre of excellence, built at a cost of £105 million, includes not just training pitches but a hotel, a hydrotherapy suite, sports science laboratories, altitude chambers and multiple gymnasiums.
Preparation also involves dealing with injury, with players often requiring specially tailored training regimes to deal with specific problems.

Former Tottenham defender Ledley King famously suffered with chronic knee problems, but managed to sustain a career at the top level by reducing his workload.

Similarly Craig Bellamy also suffered with knee problems but, as Dutch coach and fitness expert Raymond Verheijen explains to Goal, managed to overcome his fitness issues.

"Craig Bellamy is the ultimate case study," says Verheijen. "He went from being the most injured player in the history of the Premier League to one of the fittest players in the history of the Premier League simply by reducing the volume of training."

Knee problems are common in the modern game, with Theo Walcott and Radamel Falcao the most recent victims. Both players are expected to miss the World Cup after rupturing their anterior cruciate ligament and Verheijen explains how such injuries can be avoided.

"Nine out of 10 ACLs can be avoided, because the main reason why an ACL happens is that the knee is temporarily unprotected when the player turns or leans," he said.

"Normally, your muscles contract to stabilise the knee and nothing happens. For players who have accumulated fatigue over days and weeks their nervous system gets slower, so the signal from the brains to muscles gets slower.

"Over the holiday period when players play so many games and get fatigue, their nervous system slows down, and when players makes these movements the signal arrives a fraction off and a second too late in the end.

"Then the player leans or turns with an unprotected knee and the ACL snaps. You often see the ACL happens with a very simple action – something a player has done in his career one million times. On one million occasions the knee was protected and everything was in its place. On the one million and first time the signal arrives too late and the ACL snaps."

Strikers often seem to be casualties of such injuries, with some of the world's leading players of the past such as Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Alessandro del Piero having suffered cruciate damage during their career. Verheijen explains why such "explosive" players are more at risk.

"If you are a more explosive player your speed of actions is higher," he added. "The impact on the ligaments, muscles, brain and joints is higher. And the risk is higher. The higher the pace and acceleration, the more impact on your knee."

Fractures are also common in the modern game, Everton defender Bryan Oviedo is set for a lengthy lay-off after suffering a broken leg during Everton's 4-0 victory at Stevenage in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Broadhall Way.

Verheijen says a player's fitness plays a role in their susceptibility to injury and explains how fractures can be avoided.

"If you haven’t played for a while you are not totally fit. Then, when you play a game when you are not top fit you will need more recovery time than normal," he said.

"A top-fit player recovers from the game after 48 hours. But a player who is not top-fit takes 72 hours to recover. So a less fit player is more susceptible to injury.

"So, in December when you are playing all these games while needing more recovery time than the average player it is common sense that you are accumulating fatigue. At times of recovery you start the next game with unfinished business."

When it comes to preventing and avoiding injury, Verheijen is convinced that the responsibility predominantly falls at the hands of the manager, where maintaining players' peak fitness levels is of paramount importance.

"Normally the medical staff are responsible for injury prevention. This is something they cannot slow. The only way they could slow it is by telling the manager the player can’t play. But they can’t do it," he added.

"The football coaches are responsible for injury prevention. If you play once a week, every week, that is injury prevention. Maximum recovery after the game, optimum preparation for the next game, every game you are fully fresh and then the injury risk subsides."

Raymond Verheijen was speaking to Goal UK Chief Correspondent Wayne Veysey on the importance of preparation

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