A quarter-century is a very long time to hold down a job in football. A select few nevertheless manage the considerable feat. Paolo Maldini played 25 seasons at AC Milan before hanging up his boots in 2009, while Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson joined legendary Auxerre coach Guy Roux in the quarter-century club in 2011.
Dr. Michel D’Hooghe, whose job may be less visible to fans but is fundamental to football, has now joined them. This Friday the affable Belgian celebrates 25 years as Chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee. During that time D’Hooghe has helped push the anti-doping crusade, make major progress in the prevention of injuries, and implement several programmes of utmost benefit to players’ health. FIFA.com caught up with the 67-year-old, who is the honorary president of the Royal Belgian Football Association (KBVB), to discuss his and the FIFA Medical Committee’s work.
FIFA.com: From a medical perspective, what has been the major evolution in football over the last 25 years?
Dr. Michel D’Hooghe: The increasing interest of all partners in the football game in medical matters. This is partly because everybody is more and more concerned by his or her health, but certainly also because statistics prove that an adequate medical guidance is very beneficial for sporting results.
And what would you say were the major milestones of the medical work of FIFA over that period?
The creation of F-MARC, which was set up to develop the scientific basis to protect the health of all players and promote football as a healthy leisure activity, was a major milestone. It’s been pleasing to see the introduction of science in the world of football, as well as the introduction of football in the world of science. FIFA’s creation of a successful anti-doping policy was another, as well as the introduction of the PMCA (pre-competition medical assessment) for all players participating in World Cups. We have also implemented the obligation of minimal medical requirements in football stadia, and have had a medical influence on the changing of the rules.
How has your work impacted on the game?
In several ways. For example, previously players didn’t have to wear shin guards, but now it’s obligatory. This obviously prevents a lot of injuries. In terms of our influence on the [Laws of the Game], players now get red cards for elbows to the face and tackles from behind, which again reduces the risk of injuries. Another thing that comes to mind is the authorisation of hydration during matches, which is of obvious importance to players’ health, especially in certain conditions.
Nowadays, what is FIFA’s priority in the medical field?
We’re concentrating on the prevention of contact and non-contact injuries.
And the major threat?
The number of matches players play can have catastrophic consequences on the cartilage. Nowadays, some players play twice as many matches as they did 20 years ago, and this has a serious repercussion on their articulations, particularly on the cartilage.
On a personal note, what would you say is your major achievement and fondest memory?
There are a few things that come to mind. Firstly, the many measures taken to prevent injuries – rules and equipment we’ve introduced, plus medical infrastructure. Then there’s the intensity of the fight against doping, and the scientific approach of football medicine.