As part of our new Health and Wellness series, we're taking fans behind the scenes at the City Football Academy to meet the staff responsible for ensuring that our young players and both the Men’s and Women’s First teams are in peak physical condition.
Head of Academy Performance, Grant Downie, joined City four and a half years ago, having previously been Head of Sports Medicine at Middlesbrough FC and Head Physiotherapist at Glasgow Rangers FC.
With over 25 years’ experience in professional football, he is now focused on helping players aged from six to 21 develop both medically and as people.
Can you give us an overview of you role?
My job is to look after the Academy Performance staff, which includes medicine, science and performance analysis.
Our aim is to get young players to achieve as much of their potential as possible and we want to produce footballers who go on to play around the world, that know how to look after mind, body and soul.
Our job is to help young players understand their body, how it works, that sometimes they’ve got to perform with pain, how they can deal with that and hopefully how to maximise their performance.
How does your approach differ when dealing with young players rather than First Team players?
The approach is very similar, but yet very different too. With First Team players you are there to win games, whereas with young players you’re taking them on a journey, so sometimes failure isn’t a bad thing.
With young players it’s much more educational because by 22 it’s difficult to influence the education of senior players. We want our young players to have a growth mind-set, so we can educate them on injuries.
We have to appreciate that the young mind is an adolescent mind, which means it’s a bit like a Ferrari with no brakes. It can be a bit silly, but they’re meant to be. We’ve got to realise that, because of their age and lack of experience, they’re not necessarily going to follow a structured programme as a senior player would.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
In this type of role there is no typical week. I don’t work 9-5 Monday-Friday. Normally my day starts with exercise for myself because it’s important for my wellbeing and for my mind to be fresh.
From 7.15am I’m working on a plan of what we need to deliver, not just that day but the long term objectives too. I have about five meetings a day with different staff about injury and performance management and also with the Academy Director.
In my job you have to leave space for what could be the most important thing. For example, we had an under 18 game last night; if someone suffers a fractured tibia, we’ve got to be able to react with a system that can cope with that at an hour's notice.
How do the medical staff work alongside the coaching staff?
We work very closely with the coaches. We inform them when a player is injured, and advise on how much training is recommended.
My job is to work with the Technical Director. We discuss the overall planning of the season, when we’re going to tournaments, when we’re not, when the best time to introduce extra loading is and when’s the best time to give players time off.
Ultimately we share the same mission, which is to produce players - the journey isn’t the same for all.
How has professional practice changed over the course of your career?
Physiotherapy has become a much more accelerated profession. It’s still difficult to beat pathological healing but nowadays we’re able to accelerate the healing process.
Sports science has also come into its own and we monitor players much more than we used to. We monitor the amount of training and how many sprints they do, so we have a lot more information to work with.