The Importance of the Partnership Between a Manager and a Physio

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Gavin Blackwell Tells Us About the Importance and Uniqueness of the Relationship Between a Manager and Physio

The football industry is becoming increasingly diverse with the advent of so many different areas- nutrition tactical monitoring video analysis and more, but the role of Physio remains absolutely vital.

Every manager seeks the person in control of this aspect of the club to not only be competent in the medical area but a ‘parental figure’/confidant/counsellor and more. Every player is human and often needs comfort and reassurance.

After injury and during recovery the treatment table can become a confessional where the player not only seeks recovery but assurances. A physio’s bedside manner is as important as their medical knowledge when injured players need to be nursed back to fitness with the compassion of Florence Nightingale!

Managers and coaches want a player back fit. But the trust in the physio must be paramount. There are occasions when vital players are risked when less than 100% fit but the guidance of the Physio must be based on trust and the longer term risk of breakdown.

The manager and physio relationship are probably one of the most unique and important partnerships within a backroom staff. A very close one that is arguably second only to the assistant manager. A role that involves much more than treating knocks and strains and easing aches and pains and many encompassing factors to the role. The relationship between a football manager and physiotherapist is a bit like a marriage, I suppose if it is going to work, it has to be based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. There are bound to be tiffs along the way, but a sound relationship will help them ride the storm. Too many rocky patches, however, due to personality clashes or differing opinions and it just won’t last the distance.

Footballer Injury

Communication is Key

The ideal gaffer, from a physio’s point of view, is one of patience and understanding and one that gives your medical team total responsibility and allows players to return at the safest possible time. One who also knows not to ask them too many questions! Any footballer will tell you if any players have any problems or grievances, the physio is their comforting ear. They will usually speak to the manager if they think it is relevant and necessary. They don’t tell them everything. It is important you communicate, we always talk and have a chat either prior to a match or even before training. The manager will ask me the situation, and I will tell them the ones that can’t play or the ones that shouldn’t train etc.

Over the years there have been many reported high-profile manager fall outs with their physios, as the pressure to perform and achieve results can create a cycle of injuries, pressure to return to play, more injuries and more pressure! Many managers and players have spoken out about the intensity and frequency of games following the return to professional football following lockdown, often as numerous key players are hit by injury. Physios will undoubtedly be under pressure to ensure as many of the squad are fit to ensure their teams are competitive in league and cup competitions.

An exceptional physio can be arguably the most crucial member of a team. Sam Allardyce reportedly said, “A good physio can be your best signing – a bad one get’s you sacked!” A manager needs someone who is quickly able to diagnose an injury, has a profound medical knowledge, and the ability to get players fit, which is absolutely vital in the treatment of professional footballers. Also, to have a pleasant outgoing demeanour, compassion, the ability to relate to people, confidence and knowledge.

While the physio works with both the manager and the coaches, it is best to keep out of the football and get on with their own job, leaving the football to the managers and coaches. This way the players can have complete trust in the physio. Not an easy tight rope to walk. At the same time, physio’s have to understand football and footballers but stay out of the hysteria of results. A physio is like a consellor, and managers have learnt not to ask too many questions. Physio’s often see a number of managers come and go during their careers. I’ve had 19 in total, all very different whilst not naming names. Physios are the team behind the team and match days are the most special as well as stressful.

Player care must come first even though a return to play is vital to the club. Thus, it is absolutely essential that the Physio has a great relationship with the manager, adapting and changing the way they work and communicate to ensure a positive working relationship with the manager.

How might they want you to communicate with them? What boundaries do they put in place? What information do they want you to give them? Some want to know absolutely everything; others want to select decisive information. Can they train, can’t they train, when will they be available to play? Are they fit, yes or no? Also, they can make important decisions. I have had some managers who hardly talk to you and just want the injury list of who is available and leave you to get on with it. However, this is rare, especially when the star striker gets injured and they are under pressure. They don’t leave you alone. So, these problems have to be agreed, since each manager is different but all want the injured players back as soon as possible. The communication aspect is vital. Managers are always looking for the championship, promotion, playoffs a good cup run or even more urgently; survival and they will usually prefer a nearly fit star rather than an up and coming youngster.

Off-the-Field Teams Are the Heartbeat of a Club

It’s important to let the manager have the facts as you see them, and not what they would like to hear, and give your views as advice upon which he may act or not. A manager may play a player that you feel is not quite right. But that does not mean they are overruling your view; they have to make a decision based on advice from many sources against complex backgrounds.

I remember a coach saying that a particular player was worth having on the team even when carrying a slight problem, and I understood what they meant. So, it is not all black and white. For a manager, it is one of the most important parts of a football club. But not detached from the other aspects of the game. It is just as important as the tactical, physical and physiological elements of football, but importantly these all have to function correctly and together. An area which can lift you to win a trophy, but at the same time not done correctly can cause a team to fail.

For a manager, the priority is the off the field team of people, who not only know the business but are honest loyal and devoted to the ultimate cause winning, who have an aversion to anyone outside the coaching staff wanting to be a tactical expert and getting carried away on the touchline. That is the prerogative of the manager and his coaches.

I have always let them do the ranting and raving, preferring to be a wise owl carrying out my work calmly, quietly and in complete serenity. Many times, managers have needed me as much as the players and many other occasions needed my multi-skills, but these remain amongst ourselves. As the saying goes; what goes on in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. Players with respect come and go but good off-the-field teams are the heartbeat. Your job title gives a narrow view of your function and being a member of the staff team is probably more accurate. Sam Allardyce once said; “I probably couldn’t say I have enjoyed every minute, but most of the time I have loved it. It’s been a fantastic journey. A good physio can be your best ever signing, a bad one gets you sacked.”

Even if you’re doing your best clinically and technically, injuries are injuries. Injuries don’t acknowledge that the game kicks off tomorrow evening at 7:45.

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