Bleacher Report UK has teamed up with Liverpool FC and Warrior to take you inside one of the world's most storied and successful football clubs. Each day this week we'll be bringing you exclusive insight from a member of Liverpool's staff, culminating with manager Brendan Rodgers on Friday.
Bleacher Report: Can you give us an overview of your responsibilities at Liverpool and your typical working day?
Chris Morgan: My job is to manage the physiotherapy department at the club. The team consists of myself, two other physiotherapists, three soft tissue therapists and a rehabilitation fitness coach—plus part-time yoga, Pilates, podiatry and chiropody specialists who support the work we do.
Our aim as a department is to provide the optimum therapy input to the players—this can be in the form of rehabilitation of injured players in as short a time as possible or the management of ongoing chronic issues for which the aim is to maintain availability and performance.
As a department we put a large emphasis on injury prevention; the process of trying to prevent injuries is a complex one which involves analysis of intrinsic (player) and extrinsic (training and game) factors to try and reduce the risk of injuries occurring.
I typically work six days a week on average. At the training ground we start at 8.30 a.m. and generally finish at 5 p.m.; I also travel with the team, so those hours can be a little more unsocial!
B/R: What are the most common injuries you come across?
CM: There is lots of published research which consistently shows that hamstring, groin, knee and ankle injuries are those most commonly seen in professional football, and that is consistent with what we see at the club.
You tend to find injuries come in groups. Last season for instance we had two or three shoulder injuries which were traumatic and required surgery. This season we have already had three significant ankle injuries—again they were all traumatic (occurred during a tackle), and therefore there is little that could have been done to prevent them.
We try to avoid injuries, but when they do occur we have two main aims.
The first is to ensure the player is rehabilitated as quickly and safely as possible. The second is to learn from the injury. We analyse everything retrospectively; e.g. could the injury have been prevented and is there anything we can do to reduce the risk of the injury happening again? We then scrutinise the rehabilitation process to make sure what we provide is the optimum care. This way the next time we come across the same injury, we will be even more efficient in the service we provide.
B/R: Is it always straightforward to judge when a player should be rested to protect an injury, or are you sometimes relying on players' honesty?
CM: Of course it is vital that a player is honest with us during any assessment process. However, to help in that process we try to analyse as many objective factors as possible, whilst also taking on board what the player is subjectively reporting to us.
In recent years the advent of GPS within training has allowed us to monitor each player's training load in a way which just wasn't possible before. We obtain training reports on a daily basis. These reports allow us to see how far each player has run, how quickly, and how many times they have accelerated and decelerated.
We can also look at heart-rate data to determine how hard the players have found the training session. We then combine this information with objective data collected from a medical perspective and collate this to make a judgment on a player’s medical and physical condition.
B/R: How closely do you work with Brendan Rodgers? Does he come to you for updates before team selection?
CM: Myself, Zaf Iqbal (head of medicine), Ryland Morgans (head of fitness and conditioning) and Glen Driscoll (head of performance) work very closely with the manager and the rest of the coaches. We meet along with the rest of the physio and fitness teams on a daily basis and discuss all first-team players in detail.
We then liaise with Brendan (Rodgers) and the coaching staff before training to provide updates on the progress of injured players and report any issues fit players may have from a medical or conditioning standpoint. This process continues right up until the day of a game. Our job is to provide the manager with as much information as possible to aid his decision in team selection.
B/R: Rehabilitation must be a frustrating process. How did you help a player like Lucas Leiva deal with a long-term injury, and what factors can help expedite recovery?
CM: As physiotherapists we are often the closest to the player throughout the process and coordinate the input of the other staff throughout that process. We have two excellent rehabilitation physiotherapists at the club (Paulo Barreira and Matt Konopinski) and, along with our rehabilitation fitness coach Jordan Milsom, they will be the main point of contact for a player as they begin the often long journey from point of injury to return to play.
Having been in the rehabilitation role myself in the past, I know the single-most important factor in the success of any rehabilitation is the player himself. At the start of a long rehab (such as Lucas Leiva's) I just ask the player to provide energy to the process and promise them that we will then provide the direction.
In a six- to nine-month rehab like the one Lucas went through, he will have worked with every single member of the medical, physiotherapy, fitness, science and nutrition teams. That way we are utilising the skills of the whole backroom team, and when the player makes a successful return to playing we succeed as a team.
We were all particularly pleased to see Lucas make a return to the Brazil squad for the first time since his two big injuries—just reward for his commitment to recovery and his determination to get back to his level of playing.
B/R: Are you in contact with physios at other clubs? Is there an element that you share expertise and pool advice on how to treat players?
CM: One thing you have to make sure you are doing as a professional working in sport is continually looking to be innovative and keeping up to date with the latest treatments. To do this we each attend a number of football and sport-specific conferences around the world, where we will also speak with fellow professionals to get their thoughts from a medical perspective.
However, we also have to remember that our priority is Liverpool Football Club, so if we do have a particular approach, intervention or analysis which we feel is particularly effective, we won't be looking to share it with our rivals!
We have our own in-house training program, where we will present the latest research or case studies to each other or invite world-leading professionals in to present to us, and alongside this I also encourage our staff to spend time with other medical teams within sports—such as athletics, rugby or cycling—to look at how they work and see if we can take elements of their practice and apply it to football.
In fact, I would love to spend a day with the visiting San Francisco 49ers staff to see how they prepare those boys for the NFL!
B/R: What advice would you give to amateur players in terms of how they should prepare for matches and how best to avoid injuries?
CM: Research shows the two main factors associated with injury are increasing age and previous injury, so if you’re in your 30s with a history of ankle sprains, the chances are you will get another one!
However, FIFA provide a really good warm-up for young and amateur players which has been shown to reduce injuries called the FIFA 11+. Probably the main reason it reduces injuries in these players is that it formalizes the warm-up process, which helps the player strengthen a few of the "at-risk" muscle groups—such as the hamstrings—and improves balance and proprioception by improving landing technique.
B/R: Finally, how did you come into this profession, and what advice might you give to somebody who wants to follow a similar path?
CM: I wanted to be a physiotherapist from a young age and have to admit this came about from seeing physiotherapists running on the pitch to tend to injured players.
I'd always wanted to work in a medical profession, and physiotherapy, with its links to sport, seemed perfect for me. After graduating with a physiotherapy degree I initially worked full-time in the NHS alongside a part-time role in academy football. I loved working in football and was lucky enough to be offered a job with Liverpool’s reserves.
I then continued my education with a master's degree in manual therapy, whilst progressing through a number of roles at Liverpool to my current one of head of physiotherapy.
For anybody who wants to get into the profession (sports physiotherapy), I would say be prepared to work long unsocial hours—often for little pay initially. Also look to gain as much experience as possible—even if it's unpaid—to continue your professional development and, finally, always BELIEVE it can happen.
I sometimes still have to pinch myself that I have ended up with my current job and, although it's taken a lot of hard work, everybody needs that break to get into the top level. However, once you have secured that role, you have to prove yourself every day and look to innovate and progress.
You also have to fit into the role of a medical professional within a football club and gain the respect of the players and management staff, whilst connecting with them, because you spend a lot of time together.
I've experienced FA Cup and Champions League finals and been involved in some of the biggest games in the world at some of the most amazing stadiums. But more than that I have the opportunity to work with some of the best footballers in the world on a daily basis at Melwood and do my little bit to get them out onto the pitch on a Saturday. I appreciate that every single day.
This interview was presented by Bleacher Report UK in partnership with Liverpool FC and Warrior.