Former Chelsea physio Fearn lifts lid on 'shock' exit after 13 years
Written by Simon Austin — March 12, 2023
FORMER Chelsea physio Jon Fearn has opened up on his “shock” departure from the club after 13 years.
Fearn joined the Blues in January 2010 from Reading and worked under 11 different managers during a period in which the club won 12 major trophies. However, following the takeover by Chairman Todd Boehly's consortium last May, there was a revamp of Chelsea's medical department.
First to go were Medical Director Paco Biosca, who had been with the club for 11 years, and Head Physio Thierry Laurent, who had been with them for 15. Jason Palmer, who had been Chelsea's Head Physio for eight years before staying on as a consultant, also left, before Fearn was sacked in January.
In an open and honest interview with Andy Thomas for the Life Stories Podcast, which you can watch in full below, Fearn outlines what happened. He describes the way in which some of his colleagues were sacked; outlines the “incredible” results achieved by the previous personnel; and lifts the lid on the infamous fall-out between Jose Mourinho and former club doctor Eva Carneiro in 2015.
The review of Chelsea's medical department was led by private physio firm Remedy, which was founded in 2018 by Freddie Murray, who had previously worked with celebrity clients including Dave Grohl, Katie Price and Billie Eilish.
“Obviously, with the new owners coming into the club, there were always going to be changes - we all accepted that and that the changes were going to be pretty substantial,” Fearn told Life Stories, which is produced by Physiquipe.
“The club had been really quite consistent for a very long time, really since I was there and even before that, with (Roman) Abramovich and Marina (Granovskaia) running the club from a football perspective and there was a lot of consistency there.
“Then, with the staff we had, with the Medical Director Paco and the other Head Physio Thierry and Jason Palmer, we were a consistent team for many years.
"When the Medical Director and Thierry left, August, September time, I think a lot of us thought, ‘Ok, that’s the main changes happening.’ Then the club brought in some people to look at the department and to make their own changes. And it was a real surprise to me.
“I thought I was going into a meeting with one of the senior people at the club about really looking at development for staffing for next year, and looking at staffing particularly around different aspects of the club from a medical perspective, and the meeting went very differently very early on!
“It was clear that the club wanted to make some changes and I was part of those changes. That was the last day I was there. I cleared my desk, cleared my locker, put my stuff in my box and that was it. It was all very quick. It was a real shock."
Fearn praised the club for the way they had dealt with his exit, but said the way the news had been delivered to his former colleagues when they were dismissed had not been so good.
“To be honest, I felt quite a lot of gratitude to the member of staff that is still at the club - I felt it was good he was there, doing the dirty work, as it were," he said.
“Some of the people that have left the club, it was done over Zoom calls, it was really quite sometimes inhumane. The loyalty that some of the people that had given the club over a long time [it] was really quite awful. I must admit the club have been fantastically supportive over this period in offering me support in lots of different ways.
“I can’t say higher things than that really for the club. I know they are going through some difficult times on and off the pitch and it is a challenge for them.”
Chelsea have suffered well-publicised injury problems this season, with reports in January of another internal review being carried out.
Fearn said: “Change is good but you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can lose a lot of good and that is the challenge they are having at the moment.”
“One of my take-homes from my time at Chelsea is how we measure our performance in the medical team. And, for me, the medical department is really based on availability of players and minimising players getting re-injured.
“Because if players are getting re-injured, you are not doing your job well enough. And also, like the difficulties they have got at the moment, if your availability of players is really low, again that is a reflection on the whole performance team, whether it be medical, fitness, sport science, coaching… everyone.
“So those measures were incredibly good during the period we were there. One of my jobs at Chelsea was overseeing a lot of the data analysis and a lot of the analysis of how the Champions League audit worked at the club and throughout Europe and how we sat.
“I would say we were top six out of 22, 24 Champions League teams every year; sometimes we were first, second in terms of availability. Sometimes our approaches were seen as a little bit untraditional, maverick at times, but some of our results were incredible.
"Paco was the main instigator for this - it was a real department that oversaw the whole club. Any injury was always assessed with a doctor and physio present, because we felt the professions often looked at things differently and we were more powerful together.
“The average Champions League team runs availability about 86% for a season and we set a target to be 90% and above. Most the time it was." Jon Fearn
“As a group we would assess the player and in this room there could be three doctors, five, six physios, and cumulatively you would have 150 years' plus experience seeing this player and that’s powerful. There would then be a team decision about how this player could be taken forward. I haven’t heard many clubs do that process and I thought it was quite a powerful process.
“With all the managers that come, the thing that needed to be consistent was the medical philosophy and whenever a new manager came in it was proving to them, 'This is our philosophy and these are our results.'
“The average Champions League team runs availability about 86% for a season and we set a target for every squad to be 90% and above. Most the time it was.
“Paco always felt that when a new manager came in it was the medical team’s responsibility to develop their knowledge and prove to them, ‘trust us, believe in us’ and I think that’s what kept us as a consistent medical department for so long. I used to joke that I was the second longest (serving) member of staff and I had been there 12 years."
In January, Chelsea brought in Fearghal Kerin from Leinster Rugby and the highly-experienced Dave Fevre as a consultant to bolster their depleted medical department.
On the podcast, Fearn also spoke publicly for the first time about the infamous Eva Carneiro incident in the opening game of the 2015/16 Premier League season. Fearn and club doctor Carneiro ran on the pitch to treat forward Eden Hazard and Mourinho later criticised them, saying the injury had not been serious and that his team were left with only nine players as a result.
Carneiro subsequently left Chelsea and brought a legal case for constructive dismissal, which ended with the club settling out of court.
"We were playing Swansea at home, nice sunny day, and myself and Eva were the on-field staff for that game," Fearn remembered. "Eden went down injured and wasn’t getting up.
"Eva and I decided we weren’t going on, but it must have been two or three occasions where the referee was calling us on. It got to a point where it was clear we had to go on.
“It was clear the manager wasn’t happy with that decision, because we were down to nine for that corner. As we came off the pitch, Jose was screaming and shouting at us and it ballooned from there really, the whole situation.
“How Eva and I dealt with the situation was different. I had a chat with Jose the following day and said, 'I’m not here to create a problem, I’m here to do my job.'
"And we were cool. Literally the following day, no problems at all. We had Man City the following say and Jose said he wanted me to travel. I was going to sit and watch the game in the lounge and Jose dragged me out with Paco and said, ‘Come and sit on the bench.’
"It was clear our relationship was fine. We had a very good working relationship after that.”