There is no doubt that, these days, being a club doctor is, to all intents and purposes, a full-time job. But can we say the same when the debate turns to national associations? The question of how to offer optimal medical support is not always an easy one to answer. National team work is, by definition, sporadic in nature. Yet it invariably entails travelling and, unlike club football, very often includes long-term events.
The colleagues who were on duty at the UEFA European Championship in Portugal last year will testify to the number of days it wiped off their calendar. But, of course, national team football is not just about the peak of the pyramid. An association has to cater for - at least - Under-21, U19 and U17 categories, most of which are valid for girls as well as boys. A majority of associations also have Futsal competitions on their agenda. A glance at this year's UEFA diary reveals that, for example, U17 and U19 tournaments plus the UEFA European Women's Championship eat up 41 days in May, June and July. How many physicians can contemplate such prolonged absences? Can doctors be expected to use up their vacations in order to be on national team duty?
Logistics and finance
"The other problem is," one national association's general secretary recently remarked, "that doctors don't come cheap." Some physicians might immediately respond that the financial recompense offered in exchange for spending two or three weeks away from a practice, a clinic or a hospital is often unattractive, no matter how much you love football. The line of thought inevitably leads to a basic question: how best to reconcile logistics and financial resources with the need to offer the best possible medical support to the players.
Sharing the workload
One of the valid answers is to build a strong squad of medical staff in order to share out the workload. Some major associations have recruited a pool of eight or nine doctors who are ready, willing and able to combine occasional duties with their professional lives. This not only requires planning and administration but also clear policies and guidelines. To have eight or nine doctors singing "I'll Do It My Way" when they report to the training camp is enough to drive coaches and players to distraction. The team needs to be coached; there has to be teamwork; there must a clear indication of what the physician is expected to contribute - and what he is not expected to contribute.
And, on the other side of the coin, the coaches need to be fully briefed about the physician's role and responsibility so that, no matter which member of the medical squad reports for duty, there is continuity and a similar modus operandi is adopted. And, ideally, the medical squad should be assembled for briefings and debriefings at the start and end of each campaign.
Bearing in mind the variables among UEFA's 52 member associations, it is clear that nobody is in possession of the absolute truth. But, as we try to juggle timetables, professional obligations and financial resources, the prime objective must always be that of guaranteeing the quality of the medical support offered to the players.
This article appears as the editorial in the current edition of the UEFA publication, Medicine Matters. Click here to read the publication.
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