Dave Fevre: Solskjaer, Ferguson and the Treble
Written by Training Ground Guru — January 28, 2019
DAVE FEVRE is one of the godfathers of British sports medicine. He has worked in elite football for three decades and was Manchester United's Head Physio when they won the Treble in 1999.
The practitioner, now a lecturer and consultant, spoke to TGG about his experiences at Old Trafford, including working with a young Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and his reflections on how the industry has changed and where it is headed.
JOINING MAN UTD
Dave Fevre: I was Head Physio for Wigan rugby league who, at the time, were the equivalent of Manchester United in their sport. They were winning everything, with Martin Offiah and Ellery Hanley to the fore. I was working at a hospital in St Helens and (Manchester United's assistant) Brian Kidd came up with a young player called David Johnson who had done his cruciate.
They told me he was due to play on the Saturday and I did various tests and said, ‘He’s nowhere near fit enough’. At the end of the season, United's physio, Jim McGregor, was leaving and Brian called me and said, 'The job’s coming up - fancy putting your name down for the interview?'
I went in and met the gaffer and Kiddo and after about 20 minutes I realised I wasn’t being interviewed, I was being offering the job. I thought, 'I’m going to have to make some quick decisions here.’
It was June 1994 and United had just won the Double. A lot of the players, like Paul Ince and Giggsy, were mixing with the Wigan players in those days, which probably made my job a bit easier. I tried to put my ideas forward and was lucky that rugby league was held in such high esteem by the lads.
To be honest, it was ahead of football in terms of science and medicine at the time, which was a bit of an eye-opener for them. In football, rehab meant sending players to Lilleshall and clubs didn’t have great medical facilities.
At Wigan, we had won the Treble three times out of five. Then at United we won Premier League three times, the FA Cup three times and of course the Treble. It really was a golden six years and I was just so lucky to be there at the right time.
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER
It was July 1996 and the gaffer asked if I could go and pick up our new player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, from the Midland Hotel in Manchester. I went to reception and asked them to ring up to his room, but no-one replied.
'No problem, I’ll sit and wait.'
Half an hour later and he still hadn’t appeared.
All the time this young lad had been sitting there in the foyer. I thought he must have been waiting for his parents, but eventually he came over and said, 'Are you Dave?'
'Well I’m Ole Gunnar.'
I never thought he could have been a footballer, he looked so young.
Going back with him in the car, I soon realised he was a lovely, genuine lad. But I soon found out that there’s a steel and determination to Ole Gunnar too. A lot of players would have shrunk in his position, coming into a changing room like we had at United, with such big personalities and high standards, but he didn't.
Pretty soon everyone was able to see his willingness to learn and his desire to get better. Watching him doing the finishing drills was pretty amazing, because he could do things that other players couldn’t. He earned the respect of players like Roy Keane, Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel and became an important member of our squad. Nothing was too much trouble for Ole Gunnar and his enthusiasm was infectious.
The only real injury I can remember him having was a hamstring in 1997 and his attitude was brilliant during rehab. I have a lot of great memories with him. One that really stands out was the Premier League game against Nottingham Forest in February 1999, when he came off the bench to score four goals in 20 minutes. And he didn’t tap them in, he smashed them.
And then, of course, there was his winning goal in the Champions League final in Barcelona. He’d been close to leaving United before that, but had been determined to stay. Then he crops up with the winner in the biggest game of all - classic Ole Gunnar!
LEAVING OLD TRAFFORD
That goal against Bayern was Ole Gunnar's last one during my time at United. By then, Kiddo was manager of Blackburn Rovers and offered me the Head Physio job there.
So we played the Champions League final on the Wednesday night and on the Friday I went in to do Mark Bosnich’s medical. I’d already arranged a meeting with the gaffer and he thought I was after a pay rise. I said, 'You’d better read the letter.'
He couldn’t believe I’d handed my notice in, but both my kids had type-one diabetes and they were only three-years-old at the time. From a personal point of view, I needed to be around for them. I said, 'This is the most important thing in my life now gaffer, to do everything I can for them.'
I needed to be at home to do their injections and look after them. At Blackburn I could be home in 10 minutes, whereas at Carrington it could take anything from an hour to two hours each day.
The gaffer was great. He said, 'We’ll get you district nurses in to sort it out' and 'you can adapt your hours so it works for you.' But I knew that wasn’t right for Man United and it wasn’t right for him. I didn’t want players thinking I’m not working hard enough for them.
It was sad to leave United, because of the experiences I’d had and the relationships I’d developed, but I don’t regret going. Family comes first and everything had been achieved at United from a personal point of view. Carrington had been built, we’d won the Treble and this job offer had come up.
When Kiddo lost his job three months after I started at Blackburn, the gaffer was the first one to ring me and say, 'Your job’s still here if you want it.' But I said no. I’d signed a three-year deal with Blackburn and wouldn’t let them down.
I can’t praise Sir Alex enough. Whenever we played United after that he always said, 'You’re coming in for a drink then Dave?' We always exchange Christmas cards too. He’s absolutely brilliant. Everyone knows what he’s achieved in the game, which is unsurpassed, but as a man he’s a different class too.
BLACKBURN AND THE GROWTH OF SPORTS SCIENCE
I ended up working for 16 different managers in my 18 years at Blackburn Rovers and you learn so much from people like Sam Allardyce, Graeme Souness, Gary Bowyer, Mark Hughes. I think it made me a better physio.
When I started there, Jack Walker was still alive, so there was the money to improve the facilities. It’s still got that friendly family feel and is a great club. The game did change massively during my time at Blackburn though, as did sports medicine.
Back when United won the Treble, there were only four of us in the support team - myself, Rob Swire (physio), Jimmy Curran (masseur) and a part-time doctor.
Add in Steve McClaren and the gaffer and there were six of us in total in the backroom team.
Look at Manchester City now and they have 24 staff at every game. There’s so much tech and data available that I think you have to pick out what’s relevant. That’s a big skill. You have to choose what you will functionally use and be able to make decisions on, not just make a document and fill a folder to say "this player has this score".
Everything I do for screening and testing is clinically based. It’s linking the stats and assessments to what's relevant in the actual game. That’s the important thing.
I remember when Graeme Souness came in at Blackburn (in 2000), he wasn’t keen on GPS. His line was that when he was coaching at Sampdoria the players spent more time worrying about the numbers than concentrating on the football.
At the time we had a really good fitness coach called Nick Broad, who was one of the best, and he spent a lot of time persuading Graeme about the benefits of GPS. To be fair, Graeme eventually took it on board. Sam Allardyce was the opposite, he wanted GPS all the time.
The key is to take out what’s useful. It’s got to be practical. Heart rate is massive and it’s very easy to forget that in this day and age.
GOING IT ALONE
At Blackburn I made the decision that I wanted to come out of full-time football and work freelance. I went to Paul Lambert and told him I intended to leave in 12 months’ time. He didn’t want me to, but supported the decision.
Now I work for the Football Association and in rugby league teaching pitch side trauma for the doctors and physios. I also work freelance for various clubs in Scotland and England, as well as doing a lot of lecturing at Universities and conferences, it’s a real mixed bag.
One of our ex players, Morten Gamst Pedersen, is still in Norway, at Tromso, so I’ve just come back from there. Last season I covered at Fleetwood for two weeks. I go back into Blackburn every couple of months to help out with the odd player. For six months I was at Boro two days a month, after Bryan English took me there.
It’s great that the work is varied and that you’re not on call 24 hours a day. And every club I go to there’s still someone I know who’s playing or on the staff, which is fantastic. But I do still miss it. Saturday afternoons are the worst, because you’re not at a game. I find that hard, so I usually make sure I’m in the gym at 3pm on a Saturday.