The team behind the team
13 Jun 2021

By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team

DOHA, QATAR: Long before the players snooze their morning alarms for that extra five minutes of luxury inside their cozy blankets, the day has already kicked off at the National camp.

The team behind the team – the medical and the support staff, tireless, selfless, relentless – wait for the players to drop in for the morning screening, even as they gaze through the medical reports of the players on the laptop.

The medical unit is handled by the ever-smiling Gigy George, the Senior Physiotherapist. “Recovery is paramount for the players. In the morning screening session, we check the range of the hamstring and the ankles and also the adductors. The wellness is also measured – the sleep, their soreness which allows us to gauge their readiness, and plan the treatment.

Prevention is better than cure,” Gigy, touted to be one of the best sports physios in the country, avers.

“They are invaluable to the team – the support staff. They are the real players. Without their expertise, no football team can ever thrive,” Head Coach Igor Stimac comments, even as he steps into the medical room to have a friendly chat with the players.

Dr. Shervin Sheriff, Team Doctor, Indian Senior Men’s National Team, mentions that “in the morning screening process, the major lower limb structures are monitored every day – like the range of hamstrings and ankles as well as the strength of groin.”

“The records are compared, and as and when the alarm bells ring, we plan accordingly,” Dr. Shervin informs. “The players may have acute exacerbation of a chronic injury which they may have suffered long back. The treatment, hence, is designed accordingly and it gives us a proper idea about a player’s return to resume training at full intensity, and then being match-fit,” Dr. Shervin added. “It paves the way for communication with the coaching staff to be much easier.”

The monitoring of the players is not just confined to the camp alone. “In modern football you need to track every player for every single minute. Hence, when the players are not in the camp, it’s our responsibility to enquire at every single step and provide tailor-made programmes to everyone in our quest to help them stay in proper conditioning. Not to forget, that they are also contracted with their respective clubs,” Gigy highlights.

However, the current pandemic situation does act as an obstacle to the regular ice-baths which are generally done at the stadium itself post a training session, or a match. “To prevent any chance of cross-infection, we have hence been doing the ice-baths at the respective hotel rooms, and in the respective bathtubs,” Dr. Sheriff explains.

Himanshu Kharolia, the youngest among the support staff, the Team Manager, takes it forward together, and is always a step ahead in his effort to sync the team’s requirements with the deliverables.

He is busy coordinating with the liaison officer over the ice to be delivered to the respective rooms, the very next minute he is downstairs with the hotel’s General Manager over the arrangement of the meals, and then you discover him briefing the security in charge of the training site, scheduling match day movements, requirements, and whatnot. Understandably, it’s difficult to get through to him over the phone.

“That’s my job,” he smiles. “Everyone in the team is playing his role to perfection. I need to ensure that all is in order, and there are no last-minute mishaps,” he utters.

The manager’s role, in fact, kicks off much prior to the squad having assembled for the preparatory camp. Himanshu needs to plan meticulously – syncing the logistics with the stay, food, delivery of technical equipment while ensuring a seamless take-off and landing amongst a lot of other errands. “I am grateful to the coach, technical staff, and senior support staff for all their support and guidance. They are there to help me whenever I require,” he quips.

The camp in May-June in Doha, nevertheless, has come with a difference. The entire contingent needed to abide by the strict health parameters set by the QFA and the AFC in relation to the COVID pandemic. The medical leads the efforts – keeping a close tab on daily movement and meetings – ensuring proper social distancing.

“We also conduct weighing-in before, and after every training session and match to monitor the dehydration status of the players, thus allowing us to plan the re-hydration and recovery accordingly,” Gigy and Dr. Sheriff mention.

Masseur Syed Liaqat Ali has been an integral part of the National team since 2008. “The faces in the team have changed, the attitude hasn’t,” he expresses. “I abide by the schedule set for me by Gigy-sir. The massage schedule is finalised taking into account the rest, recovery process, and the daily treatments,” Liaqat says in one breath.

An hour later, you see his fingers moving like on the keyboard of the piano as he dives deep into his mastery. “It’s a 24x7 job. At times, there are around 10-11 boys or more who are in need of massages in a day. It varies on a case to case basis,” he turns towards you. “There are so many sacrifices involved. There have been instances of me spending Ramadan at home but Eid with the team. Earlier my family used to accuse me of being too much involved in football. But they have learnt to compromise,” he gestures. “All of us also multi-task. I am there for the medical team to help them arrange stuff when they are tied up, as much as I need to help my equipment manager Bahadur-bhai,” he waves.

“Jai Hind,” declares Bahadur Kharki, the darling of all. “It’s nice to be working with the boys. All of them are so young, they are like my sons,” Bahadur laughs. The equipment manager stays responsible for on-time delivery of the match and training jerseys, the practice equipment, the balls, setting up the dressing room on match-days, amongst others.

“My sons help me a lot. They are benevolent enough to carry stuff to the sessions. Sunil Chhetri is the first one to lead it, setting an example for all. In the National team set-up, we are all clubbed into one big family – serving our country,” Bahadur explains.

“One big family,” Pratik Kamble, the physiotherapist in the team, reiterates. “That’s what we are. Everyone in the team is stitched by one thread. We are doing our job at the backend. I work in close tandem with Gigy-sir and Dr. Shervin,” Pratik narrates. “Everyone in the set-up is chipping in, and backing one another. There’s no ego involved, everyone is so down to earth.”

Post 2330 hours, even as the DNDs are flashed in most of the rooms, the support staff, discussing amongst themselves, gaze through the excel sheets, moving away only to have another look at the laptop. The numbers narrate the entire story.

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