Dave Davis interviewed Andrew Massey about what it’s like being a medic for Liverpool and he provided brilliantly insightful answers.
Not very many people are aware of what takes place backstage at Liverpool Football Club, with all of the focus on the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané.
As much as we all love the lads who put the ball in the back of the net, they wouldn’t be on the pitch doing what they do so well without the help of some very important people.
One such backstage crew member is Andrew Massey; Head of Medical Services at Liverpool. Formerly a footballer himself, Andrew is a first team doctor for the club after formerly working in the Academy.
To catch a glimpse into the finer details of what makes his job so important, we had a chat with Andrew about his job at Liverpool.
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You joined Liverpool back in 2013 as the academy doctor and in 2015 you were appointed Head of Medical Services. How’s the journey been?
It has been a fantastic journey. I am fortunate to be working in a job that I love and because of that, it feels like I get to work doing my hobby.
I have always wanted to work in sports medicine, even when I was playing football, and have been very fortunate to work a number or teams/institutions that have helped me and moulded me as a Sports Doctor.
The Academy and the first team jobs are very similar. The way I would treat an under 13 with a hamstring injury is similar to how I would treat a senior first team player, so the basic medicine is the same. The differences are more around the managerial and administrative responsibilities I have with the first team.
It is important to not only keep on top of the cutting-edge research in medicine but also be aware of the advances in physiotherapy and sports science so that I can encourage the club to adopt the policies and regimes that improve player availability, efficiency and performance.
Liverpool is a great club to work for and has a tremendous history throughout the world, yet to its credit has still kept that feeling of a family club. There is an ethos (especially in Melwood) that everyone plays their part in the performance of the team. This certainly helped me settle in at Anfield.
What does a typical day at Liverpool look like for you?
The day will start at 6am. I spend an hour sorting out work emails and organising the diary for the day, and getting my first 2-3 cups of coffee. I try and get the kids ready for school, before getting Melwood for 8.30.
I will usually meet the sports science and physio teams to have a morning medical meeting where we discuss all first team players and plan their sessions throughout the day. Premier League teams tend to run at injury rates of about 10-18%, so at any one stage we can expect to have 3-6 injuries.
We also plan the sessions for the players who may either need additional work or less loading. The season is long and often players will contend with a number of complaints, but still be involved in matches and training. This is a fine balancing act and requires great detail to know when to push players or alter their training loads.
After the medical meeting I will usually report back to the manager or Zeljko regarding the player availability. The next 2 hours is usually spent assessing and treating players (along with another few cups of coffee) and working with the physiotherapists getting players ready for the training sessions.
I try and cover the training sessions as often as possible. I have a real interest in human movement (from my physiotherapy days) and get a lot of information from the players watching them play.
This can be invaluable when dealing with players who are still involved in training but not 100% fit. After training we encourage recovery techniques, so the layers are usually seen back in the physio room. Any reassessments are done and plans made for their treatments.
Whilst this is going on, the injured players will be working with the rehab staff, either in the physio room, in the gym or on the pitch.
I will usually grab some lunch at my desk and commence the dreaded paperwork, writing reports for players or updating notes (whilst drinking more coffee). I have been trailing a dictation system for the medical notes, but I can’t seem to get one that understands a Northern Irish accent, so this part of the day usually takes longer than it should.
Towards the end of the day I will always meet with the Head Physio and we discuss the injured players, their treatments and their plans for the following day. It is usually around this time that Melwood quietens down, so is the ideal time catch up on phone calls with any specialist we use. If there are any issues, I would usually alert the manager.
The evenings are either spent in the office, or at home, working through the sports medicine literature. I am lucky that not only do I have an understanding wife, but she is also a Sports Medicine doctor who is a great source of knowledge and support.
How do you and your department prepare for pre-season? There’s a fair bit of travel for the club!
Travelling with a team is always difficult as it introduces a number of variables. The planning for each trip commences at the earliest possible moment. As a department, we need to plan vaccinations for players and staff, look at the climate/humidity and training conditions, travel fatigue and jet lag, nutrition, training preparation, medical logistical support.
The list is endless, but our overall aim is to have action plans for every eventuality so that we are prepared and can keep the players and staff in optimal health.
Jürgen Klopp has bought in a number of new faces to the club on the medical side. What impact would you say they’ve had?
It is important that the team work to the managers’ philosophy on and off the pitch. Sports Medicine is an evolving discipline and, as one of Europe’s elite clubs, we constantly re-evaluate our resources, find ways to improve and make the department a success.
We are fortunate to have a number of highly skilled people within the Medical and Sports Science departments and have traditionally produced some of the best scientific research in the field of football medicine. As new staff come in, this strengthens the capabilities of the department and adds to the already excellent mix of staff members.
Success for the first team was deemed to be Champions League qualification. What does success look like for your department?
Success for us is essentially enhancing performance and increasing player availability, keeping them in a physical condition that makes them able to perform in a Liverpool team.
We worked hard this year and decreased our soft tissue (essentially injuries that can be avoided, as opposed to traumatic injuries, where the medical input has less of a preventative effect) injuries by nearly 60% compared to last season, as well as reducing the total number of days missed through injury, meaning we are getting players to return quicker, which proves the great work being done by our rehab team.
You’ve previously worked at international level, would that be something you’d like to return to eventually?
Working as an international doctor was probably the best preparation for working with a club of Liverpool’s stature. I was very fortunate to have good relationships with the medical departments of the various teams that our international players came from.
It meant that I could visit the clubs, look at the strategies they use within their departments and learn from all the various people I came in contact with. I have used lots of these strategies in my current practice. Working at Liverpool it is a little harder to do that now. We tend to have to go overseas or use other sports when we do site visits.
International football is a much different set up. We tend not to call players up who are injured and as soon as they become injured they return to their clubs. From a medical point of view it meant that my job was less intense and not as clinical.
I really enjoy the clinical aspect of my job, seeing and treating people on a daily basis is the most rewarding part of the job. I would like to think that this is the part of the job I am good at, and hope that this is why Liverpool gave me the job initially.
I understand that there is administrative and managerial responsibilities with this role, but essentially I am a doctor and a physiotherapist, and my bread and butter is treating people and making them better faster and safer. This is essentially why I work in sport and enjoy it so much.
Will any first team players have any specialist support from your area before or during the season?
Yes. It is important that the players get a rest. The Premier League is the most intense league in the world. The stats show that the players run further, faster and more often than any other elite league.
Part of the planning for each season is ensuring the players get adequate rest and recovery and this is the focus of the off season. There is always the risk of burn-out or fatigue and we need to manage the fine line between optimising fitness and promoting recovery.
We also invariably have injured players in the off season. We have three players recovering from surgery and we use the off season as the time to continue their rehabilitation, so we will have staff in everyday working with the injuries.
I would speak to the head physio (Andy Renshaw) every day about the players and all their plans (sometimes my wife gets jealous that I speak to him more than I speak to her…. But he is a good looking guy). The fitness department will also be liaising with all the fit players in the off-season and coordinating the individual conditioning work.
If you were asked to build the perfect medical specimen from current Liverpool players, which players attributes would you use?
Haha… Not sure I could do it from players, but they would have the manager’s personality, Zeljko’s brain, Peter Krawietz’s eye, Johnny Actherberg’s banter and my stunning good looks!
Some of our readers would love to get into football in a medical sense. What tips would you give them?
Get as much experience as possible. Find out who the best people are to learn from and go and ask them if you can work shadow them.
When I was starting I would have an idea of which countries were the best at certain aspects. Australia led the way in rehabilitation, so I would head out there in the summers and work shadow their rehabilitation specialists.
America was good at imaging, so I would spend time with their radiologists. England were leading with regards sports medicine teams and set up so I would visit the Premier League football and rugby teams to see what they were doing differently. Any experience is a good experience. You can always learn what to do, or what not to do.
Even now, I love listening to how managers speak. I have worked with a few in my career, and even if they maybe don’t know too much about medicine, I do learn how they get the best out of players, the language they use to encourage people or get their message across, how to motivate people.
In my job, there is a lot of communication, so learning these skills is vital. I try and pick up the best points from people I work with and use this in my daily practice.
Finally, you cryptically tweeted at the end of the season ‘one season closer to retirement.’ What does the long term hold for you personally?
I have a running joke with my wife (Sarah, who is also a Sports Doctor) that I am going to retire early, buy a cottage in Italy and go drink red wine and eat cheese all day. She has been amazing for me, in that she has put her career on hold to allow me to do this job. What she keeps reminding me is that I don’t actually earn that much and we have a mortgage and three kids, so I will need to work until I am 68.
I tend not to plan too far ahead. At the moment I have the most amazing job, and if I am fortunate enough to keep this for the next 25 years then I will have be delighted. I love coming into work every day, and with this job you constantly need to keep improving, so it is not possible to ever grow stale. Maybe in a few years I will regret never having a weekend off or working 7 days a week, but I have an amazing family which makes sacrifices for me that I appreciate, and have Sarah (who essentially does a lot of my Liverpool job for me), so I wouldn’t want to change anything.
My long term ambition is to help Liverpool develop a successful Medical and Sports Science institution which would provide the club and the city with elite level facilities, education and research all in the name of Sports Medicine. If we could open this up to the city with such a sporting tradition, we could then involve the communities and help train the future doctors, physios, sports scientists, giving them an experience of working in elite environments. We could also make these facilities available to other clubs and organisations in the North West, help encourage development and give something to the community.