As their motto says, FC Barcelona is ‘More than a club’, and this was further underlined on Thursday 16 May with the institution’s Medical Services being granted FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence status. Present at the award ceremony were FIFA Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiri Dvorak; FC Barcelona President, Sandro Rosell; FC Barcelona Board member and Head of Medicine and High Performance, Dr Jordi Mones; and FC Barcelona Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ramon Canal.
“FC Barcelona has met all the evaluation criteria, which is why it deserves to be a FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence,” said Professor Dvorak just moments before handing over the FIFA certificate to Dr Miquel Albanell. Having been on the medical staff since 1972, Albanell was invited to receive the award on the club’s behalf by its President.
The need for excellence
The responsibility shouldered by the club’s Medical Services has always been considerable, especially given the international standing of the Catalan institution, the presence of so many elite athletes and the intense media coverage all this generates.
This precise point was made by Albanell, who himself was a basketball player. Over the course of four decades, Albanell has combined his background in elite sports with his medical practice, treating, among others, the likes of Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
Indeed Messi, along with other members of the senior squad like Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Victor Valdes, attended the ceremony, as did coach Tito Vilanova and representatives of the other sporting disciplines at the club.
“For us the medical service is fundamental, above all for the confidence it gives us and from knowing we have the best professional here, whether physios or doctors, who can treat any kind of problem,” said Xavi.
“The majority have been here for decades and always put the players first. They can really empathise with us and see things from our perspective, which is not easy. The club demands that we win, and that’s something they understand, so we’re greatly appreciative of the work they do.
“We’ve had the misfortune to have two people with very serious conditions. Apart from the usual sporting injuries you get over the season, the illnesses of [Eric] Abidal and Tito have meant the medical services have had to expand. In that sense they’ve really given their all,” the Spain midfielder added.
The Argentinian Javier Mascherano, who before moving to Barcelona had played for top sides in several different leagues, highlighted the quality of the medical services available from his current employers. “A medical centre like we have here is an advantage for any footballer. And having it right here where we train is really good. The care given to players like us, who have to compete every three days, is vital. It gives you a great sense of security, as it lets you to do your job much better,” he said.
A centre of training and innovation
Although officially founded on 28 September 1948 by then director and club doctor Maria Panella, the origins of FC Barcelona’s Medical Services actually date back to 12 August 1914, when Feliu Castells was taken on as the team’s first official doctor. In those days Dr Castells earned two pesetas every time he treated a player, and five for attending each first-team fixture.
The appointment of Dr Carles Bestit to the board in 1972 provided a major impetus to the club’s medical services, which was originally run from within the Camp Nou. This changed in 1996 with the opening of the club’s Centre for Sporting Medicine, which was finally relocated to the Ciudad Deportiva Joan Gamper de Sant Joan Despi in 2011. Literally a stone’s throw from the changing rooms and training pitches, this 1,300 square metre facility boasts state-of-the-art technology in the areas of sports science and medicine.
The facilities house ten medical consultants and areas dedicated to cardiorespiratory testing, X-rays and densitometry, as well as five ultrasound devices for soft tissue and one for echocardiography, among other cutting edge technology.
FC Barcelona’s Medical Services has become the 34th member of the FIFA Medical Centres of Excellence family, the aim of which is to use medical knowledge and experience to improve the care and medical treatment of footballers of all categories. Barcelona are not only the first club to receive this certification, but also the first centre in Spain to obtain it.
“This is a medical centre that has been developed over decades with the backing of the club. However, it is not only serves the main football team but also the club’s other sports, as well as those who play the game recreationally. And that’s an important distinction – that the centre shares its knowledge for the benefit of the public,” said FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak.
This recognition “is an honour and a source of pride because it gives us new impetus to continue working and doing a great job,” said Rosell. “A significant part of the titles the team have won is due to the work of the Medical Services, and you should be recognised as such for this,” concluded the club President.