Football: How Do Top Clubs Use Technology to Avoid Injury?

In the final of the 1988 Euros, Marco van Basten scored one of the greatest goals of all time, volleying the ball into the back of the net from an impossibly tight angle. In his career, he won the Ballon d’Or three times, the European Cup three times and was named the sixth-best player of the century by FIFA. He would play his last game aged only 28. Plagued by injuries for many years, his career was cut tragically short.

In the decades since football clubs from around the world have been investing in technology in order to avoid such a tragedy happening to their star players. This has led to great advancements in the fields of sports technology., with bookmakers very rarely worried about a teams performance due to injuries. Now, there’s a myriad of different therapy options that club physicians can utilise to ensure that the players will be able to play in as many games as possible throughout the season. This has obvious benefits for the managers of the clubs as well because they can plan their tactics with the full depth of the squad available to them.

How do Teams Prevent Injuries with Technology?

But in this season, where players are forced to play multiple games for their team a week, and an increased number of matches during the international break, football clubs have been forced into ploughing greater portions of the budget into this technology.

One such piece of technology is the wearable monitor. Many teams within the Premier League have opted to use these devices; they work similarly to a commercial smartwatch in the sense that it shows statistics about the distance, speed etc of the wearer during their exercise.

Wolves are a club that are using this technology to its full potential, by having the players wear monitors in their vest during training sessions and on match days. Clearly, this new technology is working for them as they had minimal injuries last season, and only have three players out injured currently. This last fact might not sound like a positive, but given the packed schedule of this season, it is fairly remarkable. Compare that to defending champions Liverpool who has eight players out injured, despite being a far wealthier club than Wolves. These devices allow the coaches and the manager to gain a greater understanding of the fitness levels of their players and they can tailor individual goals for each player with great ease. Effective use of this technology will aid the coaching staff in their team selection choices prior to the match, but also, because the Wolves players wear theirs during games, the coaches can observe what players require resting for the next match. 

How do Teams Help Injured Players with Technology?

But what happens when the player does get injured? How can the club shorten its recovery time? Well, Bayer Leverkusen in Germany’s Bundesliga, the top flight in German football, have recently invested in submersible treadmills, which they believe can reduce the recovery time of injured players. These treadmills sit in a perspex tank which is partially filled with water up to the player’s chest. According to the head of the club’s medical department, Dr Karl-Heinrich Dittmar, these treadmills offer a greater insight into the dynamics of the players: “Being able to introduce sports-specific, multi-directional movement earlier on the underwater treadmill allows us to replicate the movement demands of the game, including dynamic change of direction, earlier than we could on land.” The most common points during a match when footballers get injured are during running and changing direction. So this underwater treadmill hopes to give the doctors at the club a greater understanding of why this happens, and therefore, how to prevent it.

The Future

So, gone are the days of the chain-smoking, beer-drinking, erratically-minded footballer of old. Nowadays, the clubs are pushing for their players to be like well-oiled machines that can perform at optimal levels, in every game, in every season. The club doctors are beginning to act like Doc Brown, from Back to the Future, with a new gadget or trinket for every conceivable way players could get injured during training or the match. But, if it works, why fight it? Wolves have had great success using these new technologies and have managed to maintain a low number of injuries to the squad, in spite of the mammoth schedule they face. Moreover, the tale of Marco van Basten is becoming similar to a Brothers Grimm story, scaring all the clubs into action so they can keep their uber valuable players fit and healthy. It seems inconceivable to the modern game that injuries could end a career as high-profile as van Basten’s, and with all this spending on futuristic technologies, perhaps it may never happen again.

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