Watford may have dropped to 12th in the league table this afternoon but they are sitting pretty at the top of another table, the Premier League injury standings one.
The Hornets have had the lowest number of injured players this season and their players have missed the fewest number of days through injury, helping Quique Sanchez Flores to pick a settled side and establish Watford, for most of the season, in the top half of the table. The figures, we believe, would have been even more impressive had they not taken into account Lloyd Doyley’s recovery from a neck injury sustained in the Championship and the fact Joel Ekstrand has missed the first half of the season with a serious knee injury he picked up last season.
Of the players registered with the Premier League, Tommie Hoban has been the longest term injury this season and he is back in light training following surgery to repair a groin and hip problem. Sebastian Prödl and Valon Behrami, meanwhile, were both injured on international duty. Jose Manuel Jurado, Juan Carlos Paredes, Rene Gilmartin and Almen Abdi are other players to have been injured. Players down the spine of the side, Heurelho Gomes, Craig Cathcart, Etienne Capoue, Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo have barely missed a minute of league action.
In contrast, Bournemouth’s players have missed 762 more days more than those in Sanchez Flores’ squad and lost three players, Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson, to cruciate knee ligament injuries.
The impressive statistics can be attributed to Sanchez Flores’ ploy of only including players in his matchday squad who are, by and large, 100 per cent fit and, more significantly, to the work of the medical, conditioning and rehab team led by Richard Collinge.
Rejoining from Wigan Athletic in February, Collinge heads up a well-manned medical and conditioning department which has gained such a reputation for its restorative and rehabilitation powers that England were happy to send Steven Finn to the training ground for treatment.
“We have amazing staff, medical, physio and physical coaches,” said Sanchez Flores this morning. “We are really pleased. We are a team and when some part of the team is doing amazing, I recognise this.”
According to their report and financial statements for the year ended June, 30 2015, Watford’s backroom team and coaching staff is up eight from last year to 46. With 53 players, up one from last season, the ratio is almost 1:1. The ongoing investment in the likes of Daniel Reguera, Gianni Brignardello, Mike Spanou, Moto Watanabe, Ben Dixon, Jack Baxter and Erik Svendsen appears to be paying dividends.
Collinge and the staff mentioned above are in at 7am every morning, preparing the training ground for the arrival of the players at 9am. Following a meeting among his staff, Collinge then presents a daily medical bulletin to the head coach. It’s not just a case of, ‘He’s fit and he’s unfit’. It is a bulletin formulated with surgical precision.
Malky Mackay rated Collinge so highly that, at Cardiff, he allowed him to run the day-to-day operation at the training ground. We spoke to Collinge, at length, during the pre-season tour to Germany and he explained the attention to detail implemented by the medical staff.
“We create a traffic light system,” Collinge explained. “We strap sensors to different parts of the body and look at their joint range of motion. We have strength devices and isokinetic machines so we can start to see signs of a restricted joint or a tight or fatigued muscle. Those in the red zone are the ones who have a 20 per cent difference to the norm. We then tell the coach we need to pull those players out and send them into the gym and they do foam rolls or a massage to get them into the amber or green zone. An amber one would be where we maybe modify their training and they do part of the session and then drop out. It’s about presenting that accurate information to the head coach and saying, ‘Let’s work together’.
“There has been a big swing and now it’s all about injury prevention. We do a lot of activation, almost a warm up before the warm up. The days of a player rocking up at 20 past 10, whacking a bit of toast down his neck and going out to train are long gone.”