SPORTS MEDICINE AT CHELSEA: STUDYING AND STAFFING
You might imagine a Monday evening is one of the quieter times at the Cobham training ground. The areas dedicated to the Academy may see activity with young players training after school but over in the first-team building, rehabilitation work with injured players will generally have finished for the day and training would have been completed earlier on.
However, this season there has been a new addition to the timetable as Cobham, for one evening a week, becomes part of a university.
Students enrolled for a master's degree in sport and exercise medicine at Queen Mary College, University of London, have been attending lectures at our training ground for a specialist football medicine and science module, and Chelsea staff have been among the lecturers sharing their expertise and experience.
The club's medical director Dr Paco Biosca believes that although other major clubs in Europe and national federations have been involved in university courses before, few have hosted MSc lectures at their training headquarters.
Chelsea's doctors, physios, therapists and sports science staff, plus Rafael Benitez, have all been involved in the lectures, as have some of the top people in the field of sports medicine including professors from the University of London.
Chelsea's Academy doctor Chris Hughes had previously been involved in an existing course at Queen Mary. Not long after him joining the Chelsea medical team - and following discussions with the University staff - it was decided the Chelsea medical department would develop this specific football medicine module for the course.
'It is a master's in sports medicine but we talk here about football medicine because we believe this is something different,' says Biosca.
'It is not similar to cycling, not similar to athletics, tennis or other sports. The closest sport is rugby but it is not that close because in rugby the skill focus is with the hands and in football it is the feet, and that changes a lot of concepts.'
The course has been able to provide workplace-based learning, such as sessions at Cobham's hydrotherapy pool, and not only do students benefit from instruction by those working at the elite level in football medicine and science, Chelsea staff preparing the lectures gain from the experience too. It is a unique form of continuing professional development and the staff share thoughts and ideas with the postgraduates, many of whom have expertise in other sports. Feedback from the students in this first year of the module has been good.
On Benitez's involvement Biosca says: 'People know about Rafa as a manager but they may not know about his university background. After he played football he completed a degree in sports science, so he has confidence in these areas and it was fantastic he spoke to the students.'
Despite this new development, the primary focus of the Chelsea medical department of course remains the club's players and that means long hours and plenty of team work.
Four full-time doctors are in place - Biosca overseeing the whole department with Dr Eva Carneiro the first-team doctor, Dr David Porter the Under-21s doctor and Dr Hughes in the Academy.
Dr Julian Redhead provides part-time support and coordinates the emergency doctors who work at home games at Stamford Bridge, plus a part-time doctor position is about to be recruited to cover Chelsea Ladies matches which is part of the requirements for the FA Women's Super League.
Jason Palmer is the manager of therapy services, working closely with Biosca in organising a medical department which has in addition to Palmer three full-time physiotherapists for the first team - Thierry Laurent, Jon Fearn and Ivan Ortega; one physio for the Under-21 team - Steve Hughes; and three for the Academy to cover the various age groups - Stuart Vaughan, Simon Dickie and Kate Yoxall. The Academy also has a pool of 12 to 14 part-time physios who work at its many matches.
In addition the first team has a further four therapy staff, Stuart Sullivan, Simon Morris, Manoel Ribeiro and Bill McCulloch, who also assist with other squads when time permits, and Clare Reid, a full-time senior nurse who supports the medical department across the club.
Practice manager Pam Jordan keeps the department running smoothly, well-stocked and on schedule with appointments, and there is a range of consultants called upon, including weekly visits from osteopath Carl Todd, who also travels with the team when away games require long journeys, and a podiatrist Anne-Marie O'Connor to help ensure all-important foot health. Matters dental are well in hand with regular visits from the club dental consultant Dr Sia Mirfendereski.
There is also a close relationship with sports science officer Jo Clubb who coordinates first-team nutrition and supplements and performance monitoring of injured players. That is a role repeated for the younger age groups.
Within the designated roles, there is flexibility with doctors and physios able to work with the other teams if needs be.
Two physios and two massage therapists normally attend an away first-team game, with home games being staffed with an additional therapist. Should, however, there be a sudden batch of injured players needing treatment back at Cobham, for instance, the numbers can be adjusted as necessary.
A particular member of staff may have special expertise in dealing with a certain injury so the most is made of that knowledge when possible, and if a player has been working with someone during his rehab and it is his first game, it can help confidence to have that staff member present at that game.
Under Biosca, who joined Chelsea in 2011, there has been an integrated approach across all the age groups at Chelsea with younger players given access to facilities such as the gym and therapy pools in the first-team building, and the full range of staff available to them, although the satisfaction of the senior squad and management remains the primary concern.
These approaches are yielding good results through the age groups at Chelsea and Biosca wishes to thank the managers he has worked with - Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Benitez who have all commended the medical department's work.
'Without the confidence of the players and the manager it is impossible,' he says.