It’s widely believed that the English Premiership is one of the quickest leagues in the world. The speed of the league in comparison to other European leagues like in Italy or Spain often catches new foreigner players unaware who struggle to adapt quickly. Even younger players who have spent their progressive years watching from the sidelines fail to grasp how quick the league is until they are thrust into it. Preparing squads properly for this requires a special team of individuals whose sole goal is to ensure that the players are as physically fit as possible. It has quickly becomes a major component of any team in England’s top tier with fitness and conditioning coaches working alongside sport scientist and performance specialist to construct a tailor made program for each player. They push the players to their limits in order to extract the additional 1% that could be the difference between success and failure. This however can lead to injuries and in Everton’s case one specific injury is causing manager Roberto Martinez to have many a sleepless night.
Hamstring injuries are very common with these athletes as they push their bodies to breaking point. The hamstring is not a “string” at all but a set of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh. These muscles allow your leg to bend at the knee and are extremely susceptible to strains, pulls and occasionally tears. During a hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles are over extended and if continued to do so could tear leading to a longer time on the sidelines. It can be a very painful injury for the athlete especially severe strains and tears resulting in agonizing pain which can make even walking or standing impossible. Recovery time can span from a couple of weeks to up to four months with rest, ice, compression and elevation better known as the RICE protocol the most common treatment. Lengthy layoffs could also require extensive physiotherapy or in some cases injections to ensure that the muscle or muscles recover properly.
In the Premiership, hamstring injuries are the most common injury suffered but Everton’s frequency spells a larger problem for the club, one that Martinez is keen to address quickly. Since taking charge in the summer of 2013, Martinez has lost twenty players to hamstring injuries of various degrees. With a smaller squad that most of teams in the Premiership, injuries to key first team players leave Everton vulnerable, a problem that Martinez is keen to fix. The latest injuries to James McCarthy, Leighton Baines and Sylvian Distin were the last straw with the club now launching an internal investigation into why this type of injury keeps happening. Questions will be asked about the routines on the training ground and on the pitch with warm ups and warm downs a particular focus. Failure to properly stretch the muscle before prolonged exertion could lead to issues either in the short term or longer term. In addition to this over conditioning of the quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thigh) can be problematic as the two muscles operate better when of a similar strength.
If the investigation reveals that the training or conditioning of the players is to blame, Martinez could make further changes to his backroom staff. Under scrutiny will be Head of Performance Richard Evans, new Head of Sports Medicine Matt Connery and the team’s fitness and conditioning coaches. Evans followed Martinez to Everton from Wigan and the two share a good relationship so he is unlikely to be shown the door. However alterations have been made recently with fitness and conditioning specialists Steve Tashjian and Dave Billow leaving as well as Danny Donachie who resigned from his role as Head of Sport Medicine in December. The reason for their departures is unknown and it’s not clear whether its connected to this investigation. Martinez, a qualified physio in his own right, is now working closely with Connery and Evans to understand what is going on and why this particular injury keeps reoccurring at the club.
Everton sit mid table in 13th, slightly off the pace after a difficult start to the season. With only five wins and six draws in the first twenty matches, Everton need a resurgence in form if they are to climb the table and compete for European places much like they did last year. To do that, Everton need to have a fully fit squad with their key players playing regularly. Martinez knows that Everton will continue to be hamstrung until they resolve the conundrum of the reoccurring hamstring injuries.