Dave Davis spoke to Andy Renshaw – Liverpool Football Club’s head of physiotherapy – about what it’s like to go out on tour with the club and how the players are building up their fitness this pre-season.
It’s not every day you get an inside look at what happens at one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
Today, we have Liverpool’s head of physiotherapy Andy Renshaw to chat to us about the on goings at the club. Just like when Andy Massey spoke to Rousing the Kop back in June, Renshaw can offer insight into how the Reds operate on a day-to-day basis.
Without much further ado, let’s get straight into the questions that Dave Davis posed to Andy.
Pre-season for Liverpool includes various locations and time zones including Merseyside, Hong Kong, Germany and Dublin. How do you prepare for such a packed schedule?
The planning begins as soon as we know any schedules. When we are told any of the destinations, we will usually meet as a team of staff, medical and non-medical to plan as best we can to get the players in the best position to perform at their optimal level whilst minimising their risk of injury.
Travelling to different time zones is never easy, but we understand the needs of today’s Premier League football teams. We were fortunate this year to be having a dedicated training camp in Germany, which, from a medical point of view increases fitness and hopefully protects the players during what is going to be a demanding season.
Our plan was to try and optimise the freshness of the players in both Hong Kong and Germany and to introduce a “tour time” that will help minimise jet lag and maximise readiness for the training sessions and matches so that the players get the most out of both camps.
Do you get any downtime to see the sites/attractions?
To be honest, we get very little spare time. The training camps are exactly that. The players work extremely hard and it is our job to try and keep them available for Jürgen and the coaching staff. We usually have double training sessions, and then need to fit in all the treatments and rehab sessions around this.
The majority of the time is spent in hotels and at the training ground, but again, we expect this. It is work and we know the demands of the job. I’m sure many people view it as a glamorous lifestyle, but anyone working in this industry will tell you otherwise. Spending long days working and having time away from the family are things we just accept when we enter into these positions- in order to do our job to the best of our ability we have to sacrifice certain things in life.
This can be difficult at times, we’d all love to be with our families every weekend, but we’re fortunate to be at a phenomenal football club, under a brilliant manager, and holding the positions we do. It is honestly a privilege to be here, and I intend to enjoy every second of it.
So in answer to your question, probably not, but if the boss gives us a few hours off one evening, I’d be dragging as many staff as I can of for a Guinness somewhere!
Sadio Mané and Emre Can returned to training at different points during pre-season. Do you have to come up with individual schedules for separate players?
Due to Sadio’s surgery and rehab, he had been doing a lot of individual work over the summer with the rehab staff. Emre had a few days off after international duty, so his programme needed altering, with the view of getting him up to the same fitness levels as the rest of the squad as soon as possible.
Andreas Kornmayer has given all the players individualised training programmes over their breaks, and Emre is no exception.
In order to give us the best chance to win a Premier League title then we have to ensure the boys can run further, faster and more often than any other team, every game, every week.
If we can help the coaching staff by giving them as many of the players in top condition for every game, then we have a fantastic chance of realizing that goal.
During pre-season, we saw the squad poked, prodded and have a thorough examination of their ears. What does the medical team monitor?
I have quite a simplistic view on what we test and what we monitor. It has to either improve performance or availability. There are so many variables and testing procedures that can be performed now.
Sports analytics and science have seen a massive growth over the last 10-15 years, and we could easily produce 7 or 8 pages of data that could be analysed for each pitch or gym session.
Producing too much data only overcomplicates decisions, it is our job to choose which data we use, how we interpret it, and how we use it to amend a player’s training week.
Does Jürgen Klopp and his staff ever ask for anything to be done differently in pre-season as opposed to the normal August to May months?
No, not really. Jurgen and his staff plan the sessions in pre-season and throughout the season to fit around his football philosophy and the style they want to play.
Our job is to help keep the players available for these sessions. This applies whether it is the first day of the season or the last.
Jordan Henderson mentioned that one of the medical staff went on holiday with him and Daniel Sturridge said that he’d had assistance too. Do your summer holidays end up with the players or do you get a break?
Both our jobs are very time consuming and a large part of this involves managing injuries. Unfortunately these injuries do not disappear when the season ends. We had three players returning from surgery this summer, which means work at Melwood had to continue.
We try to rotate the rehab work over the summer between the staff so that everyone gets chance to remind their wives and children what they look like!! For long term injuries, we try and break the monotony of rehab by using external rehab centres around the world. This means that one of our staff will accompany the player for however long is necessary to get their work done.
The players are our priority, and whatever they need to get back to fitness quickly has to be done. If this means a member of staff has to lose a few days holiday then that’s just how it is – although it’s often in a better climate so they don’t usually moan too much!!
The only time we have for a holiday is June, and even then I’m inundated with phone calls, texts, WhatsApp messages, emails. I try to ignore any that don’t need urgent attention, but it’s difficult to do this and I’m forever on the phone to Andy Massey or one of the medical/fitness staff discussing players.
I’ve worked in the industry for 15 years now, so my wife accepts it, but she’s still never happy when we’re sat having a meal on holiday and I’m on the phone talking about MRI scans whilst the kids run riot around her!!
This is why it’s so important that me and Andy M have such a good relationship; we try not bother each other unless necessary but in order to ensure we look after the players as best we can, we have to communicate well, and communicate quickly.
We saw Andy Massey carefully looking after Mohamed Salah’s medical last month. If the club does agree a fee and a medical is set, what does that involve for you guys?
Essentially we have to provide the club with any medical information that may have a bearing on the player’s ability to perform over the course of his contract. Given the sums of money the club are potentially committing to with each signing, they need to ensure that their investments are without risk. Medicals often commence with the guys in the scouting office.
They give us invaluable information about the player’s previous availability, all their published injuries, clips of these injuries and as much information as they are able to source from the media. They do a huge amount of the medical work for us, but rarely get appreciation for it, but we are very thankful.
The medical itself will then involve a cardiac screen, looking to see if there are any heart abnormalities and how the heart copes with physical stress. A musculoskeletal will be done by one of us (or Sarah, the other doctor) and we will check the strength and physical function of the player with various tests in our gym at Melwood.
We then check the player’s bloods before sending them for a 2-hour stint in a scanning machine looking at the major joints in the body important for a footballer. Once we have all this information we present the findings to the manager, owners and Sporting Director. All in the medical usually takes upwards of 8 hours.
You’ve both been promoted within the club to your senior roles. How does it differ from the first team squad to the academy?
We both have actually gone full circle. We both worked in first team football before moving to the Academy. We have discussed this before, and both agree that Academy jobs are just as important, they’re just important for different reasons. I loved working at the Academy, we were fortunate to work alongside some amazing professionals, who often don’t get the credit they deserve.
We were both happy that we left the Academy medical department in a much healthier state than when we’d arrived, and we’re both very proud of what we achieved there. Working with the first team undoubtedly puts you in the spotlight more, and the decisions we make get scrutinised to a much greater extent due to the media coverage surrounding first team players.
Of course, the pressure to have first team players back quickly is greater, but in my opinion if we allow such pressures to affect our clinical decision-making we shouldn’t be in the jobs we are.
We have to make the correct decision for the player and the club to the best of our knowledge and experience, and this is the challenge I love most about what we do. It would be very easy to take longer than we essentially need to rehabilitate a player, but we challenge ourselves constantly based on what we find when we assess a player, and if we believe we can accelerate a player’s rehabilitation then we will.
Our audit from season 2016/17 showed a 63% reduction non-contact soft-tissue injuries based on the previous season, and nearly 500 days less missed from training due to these injuries compared to season 2015/16. There has been a lot of media coverage surrounding the clubs injury rates in recent years, but the information presented by those people is utter nonsense. If you remove the high number of contact injuries in games we had last season, our actual ‘preventable’ injuries are extremely low.
For example, last season we had just three hamstring injuries (the most common injury in professional football) missing a combined amount of 72 days – this was the lowest number of hamstring injuries at the club for at least the last seven seasons!
Hopefully such information reinforces that we made the right decisions at crucial times in each player’s rehab, the challenge now is to keep the number of these injuries as low as we managed to last season – this is an exciting challenge, but may cause a slight rise in stress levels from time to time, because if we don’t if not we’ll have some explaining to do I guess!!
This season will see more games as the club navigates a Champions League campaign. Do extra games change the way you prepare/plan at all?
Yes. The manager and the fitness staff will obviously plan the training sessions around the games we have to play. Medically, there will be more importance placed on the recovery and regeneration aspect along with the readiness and preparation for each individual match. This is all dependent upon the location and timings of matches.
Andy M mentioned last time that you spend more time together than with your other halves. Does the other Andy have any qualities that you admire/grate at all?
Interesting question, I’m not usually keen to heap praise onto him as he’ll get a big head, even bigger than he has now, and that’s a sizeable head believe me! Seriously though, I think we both share similar qualities, we know when each other has any issues, we are both able to help each other to remain calm during times when we’re under pressure.
The demands of the jobs we hold are immense, and I’d be lying if I said these don’t sometimes ‘get to you’ or you don’t take them home (and get moaned at for having a short temper!) but we always find solutions and look after each other, the staff we work with will hopefully say we do the same for them- they all know we’d do anything to help them, be it personally or professionally.
Something I learnt very early on in my career was that there are people in this industry who sadly just aren’t honest. When you work with people who are good at what they do and are honest, you have to keep those people around you, and that’s why we all get on so well, and it’s a crucial part of ensuring our department works well.
Sadly it’s probably true, we do spend more time with each other than we do with our wives, although after speaking with Andy Massey’s wife, I don’t think she minds that (I don’t blame her!), and come to think of it my missus hasn’t said much about it either – so maybe they’re both happy about it!!
A massive thank you has to go to both Liverpool Football Club and Andy for brilliantly insightful and in-depth answers.