Former Liverpool physio warns Premier League stars face unprecedented battle to avoid injury when season resumes

David Lynch
Evening Standard
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing football’s institutions to take on unfamiliar and unexpected challenges on an almost daily basis.

For the sport’s many governing bodies, that means contending with a scheduling headache they could never have anticipated even a few months ago.

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For the players, it is all about coping with unforeseen downtime and the loss of a usually regimented day-to-day structure.

But it is the medical staff of clubs up and down the country who are facing up to arguably the biggest test of their careers during this period.

Keeping professional footballers out of the virus’ reach is the easy bit; managing their fitness during a shutdown of indeterminable length is anything but.

That is the view of former Liverpool physio Andy Renshaw, who believes periodisation - the process of creating precise training schedules that manage workload and target different areas of the body - is virtually impossible during lockdown.

Renshaw, who spent eight years with the Reds before leaving in November 2017, cites uncertainty over a possible return date as a particularly tricky issue for physios to confront.

He told Standard Sport: “You’ve got physios and staff and heads of department who are making sure that each one of those players is monitored and do everything they [should] do during the week.

“But it doesn’t matter how good your staff are or how good the relationship is between the players and staff, the biggest problem in my opinion is that you don’t know how long it’s going to go on for.

“How can you periodise that week? You’re going to plan to return on this date but that’s going to change potentially again.

Renshaw worked under Klopp until 2017 Photo: Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Renshaw worked under Klopp until 2017 Photo: Liverpool FC via Getty Images

“If it was a pre-season, we’d have everything planned out for every player. You’d have total distances, high-speed distances, monitoring accelerations, decelerations; the high-intensity work for each one of those players every day and in every single session is monitored.

“That is near-impossible to do over a period that could go on over a period of time that we can’t quantify.

“All they can do is fluctuate the workload, work towards the date that the Premier League set and aim for that.”

Since leaving Liverpool, Renshaw has operated as a consultant physio at Harris and Ross in Wilmslow, a hotbed for elite sporting talent such as Premier League footballers.

His new role sees him work with professional football clubs to help rehabilitate their players and assist injury prevention - as such, he remains fully aware of how even the most minor change in routine can lead to an increase in injury occurrence.

And he believes that the fixture congestion that will likely result from a bid to finish the season as early as possible poses a major threat to the players’ wellbeing.

He added: “When they come back, Liverpool only need to win two games, but the amount of workload that’s going to go into those games after such a period of time off…

“If they train for five days on the bounce and then play a game after having that much time off, the chances of injury are greater.

“So they’re going to have to find a way of compromising or putting a plan in place for that first week back.

“If you look at the pattern of injuries, there’s always a spike at Christmas. During any congested fixture period, the injury incidence does go up, we know.

“If they shorten the period we’ve got to prepare them for a Premier League game, that causes a lot of problems.

Liverpool are two wins from the title Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Liverpool are two wins from the title Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

“It’s very difficult, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the staff, because people look to the staff to guide them and it’s pretty unprecedented what they’re being faced with now.”

That potential fixture logjam is not the only worry for players, either.

Those without access to pitch space during their time away from the training ground are also at greater risk of injury when they finally return, Renshaw has explained.

He continued: “Even some of the Premier League players will live in apartments, they won’t have big gardens to go out and do pitch-based work.

“They need to still make sure that they do a proportion of that work out on a pitch so that they get impact through their joints.

“If they don’t have access to that and they’re on a bike for the next three months, they’re also going to have problems with biomechanical issues.

“If you’re on a bike, it doesn’t mimic the action of running, the forces that go through your body are very, very different.”

So, how should the Premier League go about protecting players and avoiding a spate of injuries when games eventually resume?

The idea of a mini ‘pre-season’ period has already been floated, and Renshaw considers that potential precaution a necessity.

“The longer they have off, without question [they’ll need it],” he said. “You think about the pre-season period, where they’re given programmes…

“In the course of an off-season they have four-and-a-half or five weeks off, but that’s for the ones not playing internationals.

“The majority of the players at clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United are internationals, so they’re going to play and do some work over the summer. And despite doing all that, they come back and do a six-week pre-season.

“I don’t think we’d have time for that, you don’t know what the plans are. But when they decide that the league is going to resume on a date, they’ve got to factor in a period of time for the players to train, without question.”

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