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Top sports doctor reveals the stress of working at an elite football club
Mexican doctor Jaime Figueroa Conde spent two years helping injured players at Barcelona FC to get fit and return to the pitch. Conde now works at top Dubai clinic OrthoSports, and told EDGAR about the mental strain of his job.
How much does a player’s psychology affect their recovery?
It’s vital. When a player has an injury, the pressure is there, they’re facing the dark side. If the player is not interested in recovery they won’t do the proper rehab. The best outcome is when the player is interested and is in a good mood.
What behaviour patterns do you see in injured players?
The players are very demanding, always asking questions – they want to know what they have and how long it will take to heal. There are those who don’t care about recovery and say, ‘just treat me.’ But the more educated players want to know what’s happening to their bodies; they understand some physiology and anatomy and want to go further – those guys are the ones who will go to the summit of the football world.
Who struck you as particularly intelligent at Barcelona?
[Lionel] Messi is one of them. He was always trying to research about how the body works. Victor Valdes, the goalkeeper, was also like that.
Can players with long-term injuries suffer from depression?
We often deal with players in that kind of situation. When a player has an injury they pass through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s very important that I talk to the player, encourage them to get well and help them stay positive.
Would you say you become a friend?
I wouldn’t say a friend, but we’re like a caregiver. Sometimes the player doesn’t have family around them because they’re from another country. People think, ‘what a life to be a footballer, it’s money and partying on yachts,’ but that’s not true. It’s a pretty tough life and you don’t see their struggle to get a place in the team.
How do you talk to an injured player?
We need to speak to them very clearly to get their confidence and we must be realistic, or they won’t believe us. We need to be sincere, but also soft.
Would you sometimes bring in a psychiatrist?
Yeah, totally. We see a lot of things in football, like addiction to gambling, drugs and alcohol, which can impact on the performance of a player.
Away from football, what other sports did you work in?
I worked in the medical centre at Barcelona, which is a huge sports club with 1,500 athletes and 50 doctors. I saw players from handball, basketball, rugby, women’s football, water polo, swimmers, and the Barcelona football first team – my job was always rolling and we had to be prepared for everything. I love football, so I was blessed to be in the daily life of a football club like Barcelona for two years. It’s the first thing on my CV [laughs].
Did you feel pressure at Barcelona?
If you’re the doctor working with a top team you need to work quickly. The patient could be a first team player with a big Champions League game coming up so you need to be quick. The player, the coach, and the directors of the club are all putting pressure on you to get the player fit again.
Were you able to watch a match as a fan or were you always dreading players getting hurt?
Yeah, that’s true, I was watching for potential injuries, it’s a pity. But while I was there, the club won the Champions League and two league titles so it was a happy time.
How does it feel when you help a player get back to full fitness?
It feels good to help any patient. One of the most painful things in my work is seeing players with ACL ruptures who are forced to retire early, that’s very sad because we cannot help them. But when they’ve come back from an ACL injury and you see them performing on the pitch again, it’s a feeling of joy.
END OF INTERVIEW