There was a time in football when the club physio was something of an afterthought, typically an old-time player offering a kind word in the treatment room and the magic sponge out on the pitch.
How things have changed. These days, the afterthought has become an industry and the physio is just as likely to be a woman as a man, responsible for a team of specialists, and a key cog in a club’s sports science machine.
Prep4Pro’s Alan Rankin has lived through the transition.
A former youth team goalkeeper who completed his physiotherapy qualification as a back-up plan, the Glaswegian has seen service with sides as diverse as Glasgow Rangers and is currently Chief Physiotherapist with SPL side Hamilton in his native Scotland. He’s worked Charlton in the English Premiership, Port Vale, Scotland’s U21 and women’s teams and the Welsh national side.
He’s carried out hush-hush pre-transfer medicals at Ross Hall private hospital, answered to Walter Smith, Alan Curbishley and Mark Hughes. He’s faced the interrogatory questioning of Craig Bellamy and seen first-hand how Man City are currently taking preparation to the next level as a guest at their Etihad Campus.
In between times, he’s seen a lot of good players come and go and he says that the game has become unrecognisable relative to the one he first experienced as youth teamer in the early 90s.
He says: “The first thing is that the physio’s remit has moved from repair, patching up players and getting them playing, to a key role in preparation. The current thinking is that physical attributes like strength, stamina, power and flexibility are harnessed to support clarity of thought and execution on the field.”
“The players abilities have to be supported by their physical condition so they can play without doubt or distractions. This is a game for mentally and physically strong players now.”
Rankin, who has also worked with British Gymnastics, Scotland’s boxing and hockey teams at Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games and across a number of other sports says that in his lifetime the transition from football players to football athletes has been the game’s most profound development.
“The level of performance, the professionalism, strength and conditioning, the concern with nutrition and rest, the attention to detail have all gone up exponentially.”
Rankin says: “When I was young you’d see a programme like Superstars on TV where international footballers would regularly get humiliated by athletes and martial artists in tests across a variety of sporting challenges. Run that series again and the footballers would come out on top – simply as a reflection of their professionalism and the investment that’s been made in their support.”
There used to be a macho bravado with football that strength was the thing, but, the physio says that in reality there are so many more variables at play.
“There’s a gulf in perception that exists between fans, those breaking into the game and the media as to just how good the star players are in terms of ability, speed, physical condition and mentality.”
He says: “Generally, society does football players a massive disservice in terms of the perception of their abilities and their commitment and sacrifice to get to the top and stay there.”
An unlikely poster boy perhaps is Craig Bellamy, the controversial Wales forward who also starred for clubs like Newcastle, Celtic, Liverpool, West Ham and Man City in a 18 year top level career. But Rankin says that the headlines that followed Bellamy were broadly a function of a hard-wired will to win rather than malice.
“Whenever I did anything with him for Wales he’d be there with a seemingly endless list of questions. Basically he was a sponge, soaking up every last bit of information, anything that might be translated into him gaining an edge on the field of play. The only way to describe him is as obsessional. And its a characteristic that is common to all the most successful athletes I’ve worked with.”
It is this gulf between talented players and the truly driven that Alan Rankin believes he can help to bridge in his role as Chief Medical Officer with the Talent ID and development initiative Prep4Pro.
Part finishing school, part residential training camp, Prep4Pro strives to provide a pathway to the pro game for American players, while filling in the gaps in their learning, and exposing their game to a network of embedded European professional experience that can get them signed, if good enough.
Rankin says: “Everything looks easy from afar but there’s a level of commitment that it takes to succeed that isn’t widely seen. The absence of a social life and privacy that are taken for granted by most people, constant monitoring and comparison with teammates and rivals, lack of downtime or time with family due to the singular focus of football. Obsession with nutrition, no alcohol. Basically, success comes at a price but money, the really big contracts are a by product of a commitment to what’s required to succeed.”
The physio also believes that you can see the legacy of that commitment on the park and in the kind of injuries that both prevail now and those that have died out.
“In the mid 1990s you’d see a massive amount of hernia injuries but as a function of universal core strength and conditioning training they’ve largely died out. Another thing you don’t see is players pulling up in games with hamstring and calf strains late in a games. That is a classic sign of weakness and fatigue. The training now is very sport-specific and multi-functional. For football that means strength, stamina and flexibility. Nobody is getting beasted on the training field nowadays and everything is for a purpose.”
He says: “The injuries of the current day are more likely to be muscle and knee problems, injuries that reflect the rigours of many more games, played with intensity from a very young age.
Rankin says: “As Wales boss, Mark Hughes always said that he wanted players so well prepared to play that they’d have the least excuses possible after the game. And it is something I’d like to take forward into the Prep4Pro camp in Williamsburg in May.”
He says: “I’ll be hosting specific workshops on physical and mental conditioning but I’ll also be looking to offer individual advice to the players involved before, during and after. That will start with an assessment before they’ve even arrived, based on the missing gaps, the career players have had to date and their current condition. And they’ll be monitored all the way through. I always say: ‘why guess when you can test?’ and that will be the basis for ensuring that when the players complete Prep4Pro, they’ll have no excuses when it comes to knowing what the game requires of them and what they need to do to get there.”
For more information about Prep4Pro and how to apply to the May 31, 2018 training program visit the Prep4Pro website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.