McNally: We've had to be creative to keep our players ready

  • Dr McNally has been Manchester United’s team doctor for over 16 years

  • He describes a typical working day

  • McNally discusses COVID-19 and his career highlights

Dr Steve McNally has been Head of the Sports Medicine and Science department at Manchester United for over 16 years. He spoke with Andrew Massey, Director of FIFA’s Medical Department, in the first of a new podcast series, about what a typical day is like for the team doctor of an English Premier League club, how he works with the various head coaches and the role sports medicine is playing during the COVID-19 crisis.

What is your typical working day like?

Dr Steve McNally: It’s changed during the time I’ve been here. I usually get in around eight in the morning, but I’ll have taken a phone call or two on the way into work. I have half-an-hour to myself just to get some material ready for what’s a fairly brief team meeting with my staff. We just go through every player very quickly and get an impression of what the training session’s going to be. We will decide the medical status of the players and take that up to the coaching team. That often changes their plans a little bit, sometimes to their frustration!

We then normally have about two hours to get the players ready. There are the early birds who like to get their things out of the way, sometimes just to have a chat. I personally, now for the last seven or eight years, have gone out to training every session: one, to provide the emergency aid cover, and two – and I think I’ve found this really important over the years – to actually see how players are and see what performance levels they’re hitting, and if anything happens, you’ve seen it first-hand.

Back in, we’ll check on anything that’s happened in the session and often there’s some diagnostics to do then as well, and then we’ll feed back into the coaches about how it went. The management side of things has increased exponentially over the years with involvement in all sorts of meetings, committees, budget management and phone calls.

You’ve worked with a number of head coaches. Do you find that your style of working needs to change in response to the manager?

It has to. We are there as a support service – we’re not running the team or the club. We obviously have to care for the patients as individuals and you have to adapt, and by doing so you learn different ways of doing things.

How have things been at Manchester United during the COVID-19 crisis?

Any business, particularly any high-profile business like ours, we’ve got a role to play in society in general and we have to be a shining example of how to behave in whatever process and policy the government puts in place. We also have to do that on a wider setting, because we’re a part of the European and the world football community as well. We’ve had to be very creative in the ways we’ve tried to keep our players ready for competition, whenever that may restart again.

What impact has the enforced break had on football?

Our prime concern at the moment is looking at ways of working that might be better for the future. We’ve become a lot more efficient at doing things, and reactive and proactive because of this crisis. There have been a lot of obstacles sometimes in terms of keeping the players sufficiently fit to return to training and then to be able to play games in a very intensive fashion, or we might be faced with the longest break we’ve ever had to start off the next season.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

On a sporting level, I’ve always said winning the Club World Cup in 2008. That medal that you get says 'World Champion' on it – you can’t beat that. Also to get to that point, you have to win the Champions League. Away from that side of things, there’s been a number of clinical issues that will obviously remain totally personal and confidential, but they gave me great satisfaction in sorting out things that needed to be sorted – and not necessarily with top players.