Brentford’s 2016/17 Sky Bet Championship season finished more than a month ago but for many at the Club, the work continues through the summer. The Club’s medical and performance staff have been working through the close season to ensure players that missed the end of the season injured are given the best chance of recovery for the new campaign. The Bees had five players out of action at the end of last term – Rico Henry, Alan Judge, Lewis Macleod, Josh McEachran and Justin Shaibu – and Neil Greig, Brentford FC Head of Medical, updated on the work they had been doing over the summer.
Neil said: “As is normal at every well run professional team-sport club, the work of the medical and performance staff has become a 52-week-a-year service, which we organise in order to ensure that all of our players receive the most appropriate care and guidance that our resources can provide. Whilst the close season may mean some well earnt down-time for may many aspects of the Club, with attentions being switched towards preparation and planning, the physical work continues with specific players at Jersey Road throughout that period.”
“Alan Judge’s lengthy recovery from a significant lower limb fracture injury is continuing and he is now seven-weeks post-surgery from what we hope will be the final surgical procedure that he will have to undergo. Alan is off his crutches, walking well and his review with the consultant last week placed him at exactly the expected point for this stage.
“Alan now has a busy few weeks as he returns to Ireland in order to get married and, following his honeymoon, he will return to the Training Ground at the end of June where we hope to see further evidence of improved healing. Alan will then spend a block of reconditioning time in Philadelphia in July, working with Bill Knowles, the conditioning coach that we have worked successfully with in the past with other players. Following that, we hope Alan will be in a position to recommence his outdoor work and a graduated return to the squad.
“As you’d expect with any of our long-term injured players, Lewis Macleod’s summer has largely been spent at the Training Ground working with medical and performance staff. He had a short break at the end of the season to recharge and has now been back working hard for the last three weeks. Lewis has, what we hope will be, his final review with the consultant next week, where we hope to able to agree his final progressions towards team training. This however is only one part of a complex jigsaw with injuries such as Lewis’s and there a number of key objective physical markers that he needs to achieve before making a graduated return to the squad.
“It is realistic for us to predict that Lewis will take a monitored part in elements of the squad pre-season training, however the final stages of his reconditioning will run alongside that through pre-season in order for us to achieve that physical gains that Lewis needs to perform well again in the Championship. With that in mind, it’s unrealistic to predict that Lewis will be a fully fit member of the squad for the first league game in August, with a return to the squad at some point in September being more likely.
“Josh McEachran continued to work with the medical and performance staff following the end of last season having been unable to return to full training, following his ankle injury, before the last game. As is always the case for players who are either injured or unable to train fully for physical reasons, Josh’s close season break was considerably less than the fully fit members of the squad. He will also return to pre-season training one week ahead of the main group in order to ensure that he’s in the best possible shape ahead of the new season.
“Justin Shaibu sustained an ankle injury which caused him to miss the final games of last season and, as with the other injured players, has been working to ensure that he’s as close to full fitness as possible for the pre-season training block. Justin’s progress has been steady and, following a short break this week back in Denmark, he will return to the club and complete a similar block of conditioning to that of Josh and Rico ahead of the main group returning on 26 June.”
Neil explained that the medical and performance staff cover the entire close-season on a rota basis, with at least one member of each department onsite delivering gym-based and field-based sessions to the members of the squad who are injured or not fully fit. Neil said all staff get a break and there is a chance for reflection, as well as some professional development.
He said: “The final whistle of the final game of the league season triggers a period of high activity for medical and performance staff. In the week following the game, all players are reviewed and specific physical markers recorded which are then used to create a bespoke close season plan for each player. Under the close supervision of Chris Haslam and his team, this involves an element of rest and recovery along with a graduated preparation phase of conditioning aimed at them returning on 26 June ready for the first phase of pre-season.
“The physical markers are rescreened at that point in order to ensure that everyone is where they need to be ahead of the most intensive training period of the season. There has also been the continued delivery of work to our international players since the end of the season, who have needed to maintain their conditioning ahead of the June internationals. The staff rota system that we have in place means that all staff can look forward to a well-deserved break with their families, whilst the departments remain manned and able to deliver high quality sessions.
“Education also forms another key aspect of the close season for many of our staff. The break offers us the time and opportunity to attend conferences and visit other high level sporting environments, which we simply do not get the time to achieve in season.
“Myself and three other members of staff recently attended an international sports medicine conference in Barcelona. The conference was attended by over 3,000 people and our own Club Doctor, Matthew Stride, chaired a number of sessions and presented some club case studies with good success. Likewise, we attended the Football Medical Association Conference where we were nominated for the Championship Medical and Science Team of the Year award. Although we didn’t win (the award going to Brighton for their promotion-winning efforts), the fact that we were nominated by other clubs within our division is testament the good working practices that we have developed as a group of staff over the past six or seven years.
“Conferences such as those mentioned, also allow us to network and share best practice with staff from all aspects of elite performance which can only be a positive thing as we look to continually evolve how we work at Brentford.
“Finally, the close season allows us a period of reflection on the season past, with an opportunity to identify aspects that we would like to adapt or introduce in order to improve our service and, consequently, the performance of the players. Much of this involves reviewing the vast quantities of performance and injury data that we record throughout the season and identifying where we may need to improve in order to support the Club and coaches’ philosophies. Once identified, we can devise means of screening the players in order to attempt to train the physical aspects required by our style of play in each individual player, based on the demands of their position.
“In summary, the demands of the modern game, and a progressive Club such as ours, mean that the role medical and science staff continues to evolve with very little opportunity to shut down the service. However, we are fortunate that with the support of Matthew Benham and the Board of Directors, we are well enough resourced at Brentford to ensure that these demands can be met whist the staff also have the chance to recharge their batteries over the summer.”