Burgess defends medical cull at Arsenal
Written by Simon Austin — January 24, 2020
FORMER Arsenal Head of Elite Performance Darren Burgess has defended his cull of medical staff at the club in the summer of 2018, saying a “culture change needed to happen” and that “the players often ran the place” when he first arrived.
In his first in-depth interview since being sacked by the club in May 2019, Burgess told The Athletic he had “a sense of pride” that “a lot of the structures and philosophies that we put in place as a group are still there”.
The Australian, who was appointed by the club in June 2017, revamped the medical department, sacking Head of Medical Colin Lewin, who had been with Arsenal for 23 years, as well as physios Ben Ashworth, Andrew Rolls and James Haycock.
He brought in Chris Morgan, Tim Parham and Paulo Barreira in their places, while also hiring sport scientist Tom Allen, nutritionist Richard Allison and data scientists Mikhail Zhilkin and Susana Ferreras.
Burgess, who is now High Performance Manager at Melbourne FC, said: “The players often ran the place. In a lot of clubs, masseurs and physios in particular, as they spend a lot of time with players and provide them some relief, can develop really strong relationships.
“That can make it a little bit harder for people — doctors, physios and other therapists — to have the really difficult conversations.
“I think there was a reluctance of some of the people involved to use hard training as protection, and so instead they’d do more rest and recovery. Because that was the easy option. It’s easier to sell to players, in particular.
“Essentially there’s been a fair bit of research that shows that if you can build up players’ resilience to hard training, that the impact of a game becomes less and less because your body is accustomed to it.
“Hard work is the best form of injury prevention and injury protection. You should be slowly but deliberately building up people’s training tolerance because then, in December and January, when the games come thick and fast, the players are used to it.”
He said the sackings represented “one of the toughest periods of my career", adding “I had sleepless nights over those decisions. There were people who’d been there for over 20 years.
"I guess I felt there was a cultural change that needed to happen, and I had support from the people above me.”
Burgess said he realised his own position was vulnerable when chief executive Ivan Gazidis - the man who had brought him into the club - announced he was leaving to join AC Milan in September 2018.
“As soon as he was leaving I recognised a possibility,” he said. “When Sven (Mislintat) left too, I became more vulnerable. We’d come in together.”
Then, when Unai Emery replaced Arsene Wenger at the end of 2017/18, he brought his own strength and conditioning coach, Julen Masach, with him.
“Unai brought in his own staff, and his own methodology, and his own team and said, ‘This is the way we’re going to do things’, and that led to me and Julen butting heads a bit,” Burgess explained.
“If I’d taken the suit and tie route, it wouldn’t have been my battle to fight. One of the things that I guess I wonder whether I might have done differently, is that I was brought in at director level.
“So in theory, the job could’ve been turning up in a suit and taking a broader overview of things. Arsene had wanted me on the grass, and I felt it helped me effect change and take difficult decisions when they might not have otherwise been made.”