Sure They’re All At It – Liverpool in recovery (Part 1)

Full disclosure, I am a lifelong Dundalk FC supporter. As well as following my boyhood club, from the age of about three I’ve followed West Ham United, thanks to a player card in a packet of sweet cigarettes and the great Billy Bonds. I have a soft spot for Eintracht Frankfurt thanks to working with them during my time in Germany. And I continue to see the good in Russia’s Volga Ulyanovsk, due to work and personal connections. My article of the 3rd of September was not anti-Liverpool. I am far from anti-Liverpool. I called the title race over in October 2019. I enjoy the city, and Hillsborough still horrifies me, as does Heysel. So here goes with Part 1 of 2, sure they’re all at it.

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The smell of coffee and other stuff

In Why Liverpool won’t win the Premier League this season I wrote about hyper-dosing caffeine, overuse of painkillers and pushing players so hard, so often that eventually their bodies would break down. The additional info about asthma was a small point as the medication for this condition is disgustingly abused by many sportspeople. Of course they get Thereaputic Use Exemptions (TUEs) and become asthmatic which legalises their cheating. However it is accepted in the sports business that without these certificates to dope legally, it is impossible to compete at the highest level. I’ll be providing a case study from another skill and stamina sport in part two to this series.

Caffeine is everywhere in our society with coffee shops seemingly popping up to fill spaces vacated by coffee shops, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of caffeine on sports performance was well discussed by Louise Mary Burke in her 2009 article where she collates studies proving that even moderate amounts of caffine use (~3 mg.kg-1 body mass) benefits performance. So hyper-dosing will bring even greater benefits, even when organisations like the light touch NCAA warn of the dangers of abuse.

In studies performed when I was working with sports nutrition, we found that increased caffeine amounts were needed to reach the highs, perceived or real, of previous workouts/performances. Double scooping of pre-workout formulas was and is common among athletes, but with that caffeine is lots of sugar, amino acids and other chemicals. The body is not dumb, it builds a resistance and naturally tells us to cop onto ourselves and to take it handy. Push too hard and weaknesses start to strain and pop. In the most tragic circumstances – cardiovascular issues occur. In less devastating, it’s muscle and joint injuries.

How to keep the show on the road

Caffeine stimulates the brain, increasing alternes. It also increases blood pressure through narrowing arteries. Asthma drugs are corticosteroids which are fast acting and loosen up the muscles around the airways and allow a person to breath easier. They go straight into the lungs and rescue people from wheezing and shortness of breath. As with other steroids, long term abuse can lead to muscle weakness, chronic shortness of breath, bone thinning (osteoporosis), lower immunity and higher blood pressure, amongst others. EPO stimulates red blood cell production and thus deliver more oxygen to muscles, simply put increasing stamina. It can be deadly and is commonly used in football.

Given that most players play through the pain barrier, thanks to PEDs and painkillers, muscles, joints and bones have little time to recover and heal. In fact, many of the chemicals used in pain management gradually break down the body when overused and have drastic effects on the brain and mental health. Injuries get exacerbated by the need to perform with the support of painkillers and other Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).

A former English professional told us on Capital Sports FM:

You play in pain. You accept it. I used to take time off in the summer to swim, eat, let my body heal, my mind too. Then you go again. You strain a calf, get a massage, loosen it a bit. You get a mild painkiller and train. You push it and it hurts. The physio tells the Doc, he says, I have some gel. You get it rubbed on, another tab. It doesn’t go away because some idiot from Arsenal kicks you on the sore spot. You have to go back and play or lose your place. You’re now on six pills a day, gel before training, rub down and more gel. You’ve a game Saturday and the gaffer asks, “you ok”? You say, sure, can’t wait. Friday you feel your stomach cramping and the Doc gives you something for it. And to sleep too because it’s tough to sleep when you can’t lie normally.

Before the game the physio calls the Doc, they talk, look at you. Then say, we’ll give you a quick shot and you’ll dance like in the Bolshoi. I say, no, I’m fine. Physio says, your funeral. You play, have a shit game, get taken off and the gaffer gives you a blast because we lost, you’re to blame. Take the fucking shot next time you weak c*nt, you cost us today. Very quickly your mates turn their faces, you’re rooming with the farter or snorer or guy who likes to play with himself a lot. Your agent tells you this or that is interested to sign you. You’re not playing, you’re angry, still trying to get rid of that bloody calf injury that is now in our knee and hip, and the other hip. You move and start the cycle again.

His is only one of dozens of interviews I’ve made with former sportspeople who just get on with it. When in the Nike-funded Michael Jordan hagiography, The Last Dance, we see players run off court for a massage and injection, it doesn’t take away from the documentary. In fact that, plus Jordan’s body changes and work with dodgy trainers, get forgotten in the art and emotion. We don’t need to see our heroes crippled and broken, we want them out on the pitch performing, at any cost.

Knock-on effects of knocks at Liverpool

Muscle/joint injuries and flexibility decreases mean that a slight knock is exaggerated and recovery is even less predictable. It does not take a leap of imagination to understand that to perform at the highest level week in and out takes more than a cup of tea and orange slices. No club (in the top flight, at least) is clean, there are only levels of expertise and investment. Liverpool continue to invest in their expertise, creating a new “Head of Recovery” post and bringing in yet another German expert less than two weeks ago which was largely ignored with on-field action more important over the busy Christmas period.

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Andreas Schlumberger joins fellow Bayern Munich alumni Andreas Kornmayer, the Red’s Head of Fitness and Conditioning. There has been radio silence from those in the English media who were so vocal in 2018 when Dr Rob Chakraverty was on the England football team staff. Wait, scratch that, they were silent about him too. For those unfamiliar with Chakraverty, he left his role as England doctor due to controversy surrounding his work with UK Athletics and mores specifically, with Mo Farah. But more on him in Part 2.

And we cannot say we weren’t warned about this, in March last year there was abundant evidence that it was open season to go full throttle, even as doyens of anti-doping and head of US anti-doping Paper Tygart lied that all training had ceased, therefore no need to test.

Recovery from training, matches, travel and injury is a major difference in performance levels. Anyone who has competed in sports at an amateur level, then moved up to get paid to follow your hobby, understands immediately. Aside from nutrition, diet and quality training, recovery is key. While amateurs will have to go to work or college the next day, a pro can be pampered and looked after, to a point. Bodies are capricious yokes so if you push them extra hard, they demand a price. Liverpool, Manchester United and the rest of the major clubs around the world can’t afford for players to be just lying about for weeks on end, they need to get on the bus to go to the Hawthorns or on a flight to Milan or the big local derby. No rest for the wicked. This is where the experts with their pills, potions and needles come into their own.

And they’re all at it.

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Check back for Part 2 coming next Monday.

For more reading on doping and dark arts in football from Alan, check out:

Author Details

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Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, Commentator for Russian League and Cup matches. worked with major sports clubs including:- Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Former International boxer and semi-pro footballer. Worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. Commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, Host of Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow, #ChampTalks2020 and write the odd article. Director of the International Centre NUST MISIS and former Director of the Centre of International Relations at the Russian State Social University, both in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produced and hosted #ChampTalks2018 for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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