Football

Lieven Maesschalck, the star physiotherapist of Belgium and Real Madrid

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Foot Mercato: tell us about your story and that of Move to Cure, how did you get here?

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Lieven Maesschalck: I quietly launched Move To Cure in Belgium 30 years ago, in a small village in the countryside. I started with functional rehabilitation, “healing through movement”. Athletes have come to me through word of mouth. I started with a local sportsman, and I was lucky to have difficult cases, which the doctors could not resolve. I used my method of functional rehabilitation. 20 years ago, I had the first Belgian national team player. I also had Philippe Clement (trainer of AS Monaco, editor’s note), Marc Wilmots… I also took care of the great cyclists. At AC Milan, 20 years ago, they had a big problem with Fernando Redondo, the captain of Argentina, I intervened. The coach at the time was Carlo Ancelotti, and so, by word of mouth, players like Andriy Shevchenko, Filippo Inzaghi came to see me. And I evolved. 20 years later, we have 25 people working in Belgium on serious injuries. We don’t really work for a club, we intervene as a consultant.

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FM: How did you come to work with Belgium?

ML: I started 10 years ago with the Belgian selection, because the players asked me to. Because I know all the club doctors, I can warn, I have a lot of contacts… It gives them confidence. We have a really strong staff in the selection. Our quality is to be independent. We can judge things well. We created the “floor of experience”. We have a lot of different serious cases, in different athletes. It also allows us to adapt our work to everyone, to prevent certain injuries. There is now the implementation of technology…

FM: Could the lifestyle of certain footballers with whom you worked pose a problem?

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ML: yes, I have already seen everything (laughs). There are those who are doing everything well, in terms of food, sleep, rehabilitation… Now everyone is treated very well because the competition is greater. It is important to take good care of your body, regardless of the sport. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and sometimes mentalities are different depending on the athlete. Some don’t have the discipline to stay on top. There are some who learn, but if some don’t want to, there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s over for them. If a player has a long career in football, it is because he is truly devoted to his sport. They question themselves constantly. This mentality is great to work with them.

FM: Is it sometimes difficult to make players understand that they can’t play or would do better not to play, to wait a bit, at the risk of aggravating an injury?

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ML: There are two things. The players have the right mentality, they want to come back as soon as possible. And there are the circumstances, with the pressure of the club. A coach always wants to be able to count on an injured person as soon as possible, so that he can play not tomorrow, but the day before yesterday. There is this pressure. If a club wins, it’s easier, there are fewer needs. If a club struggles, the pressure is greater, because they need him. If it’s the Champions League final, it’s different again… They put pressure on the players. Afterwards, I often see good coaches, who follow the instructions. I talk to them, I explain to them, step by step, that you shouldn’t take any risks for a relapse. You have to respect biology. You have to choose the right solution at the right time. Have an accelerated program, if possible, no problem. We have to be honest for the player between us and respect science.

I have never seen tensions in the Belgium dressing room »

FM: Was Romelu Lukaku really ready to make the World Cup? What are your thoughts on the handling of his case, and do you think he’s struggling to get back to his best due to a physical issue?

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ML: there is the club, the player, the coach and us. The player and the club say what they want, and we give our opinion. We then have to make the decision, we said “if he wants to go to the selection, the earliest return is the match against Croatia”. You may have recovered from the injury and not be fit, as you haven’t played for 2 months. The will of the player is important. It went well, he played 45 minutes. He is a player who knows his body, he is 29 years old, he has the maturity to make the right decision. Everything was well calculated, there were no problems.

FM: During the 2022 World Cup, there was a lot of talk about the tensions in the dressing room between different players in Qatar… what was it really?

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ML: I read what was said in the press, I was really surprised to read that. We lost, we lost. We were really disappointed. I’ve never seen that, tensions, in the locker room. We try to find an explanation, but no. If we score against Croatia, that’s another story. It didn’t work, you have to accept it.

Thierry Henry was well liked and respected in the group »

FM: which elimination was the most difficult to digest between the 2018 and 2022 World Cup?

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ML: both. In 2018, we were really disappointed, deeply, to lose against France. But 3rd, for Belgium, was really exceptional. There, losing against Croatia, we were also very disappointed. We had an ambitious team. De Bruyne is ambitious, Courtois is ambitious… For everyone, there was hope to do better. The reality is that we have come home. Now we have to find the right momentum for the future.

FM: How was your relationship with Thierry Henry? Did he have an important role with the players?

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ML: he’s a man with an incredible track record, like no other. He won it all. He’s a great person, incredibly friendly. He’s creative, smart, he speaks well, he’s still fit, he has an imposing posture. He speaks with authority to the players, he has the direct respect of the players. When he says something, we accept him in the group. He was well liked and respected in the group, for what he did, his way of working, his opinions. It was one of ours. He won his place directly with Roberto (Martinez). He also has this emotional intelligence. For us, it was class. He has everything, the experience, the charisma… now it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do.

FM: The departure of Roberto Martinez and the arrival of Domenico Todesco at the head of Belgium, does that change anything for you?

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ML: no, Move To Cure will remain on the team. One of my associates will take care of it. This year, I worked a lot with Real Madrid. Two people from my team will stay with the Red Devils. Me, I remain in back-up, present if necessary, but I will no longer be constantly present with Belgium. I will not do Euro 2024.

FM: Tell us about Real Madrid. How do you work with them, how is it going?

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ML: We’ve been working together for a year now. We are a consultant, we discuss with the medical staff… Not only for football, but also for basketball. It’s a very good collaboration. We exchange our experiences, our knowledge, to optimize all that. The head of the medical staff is very open. We do this once a week or every two weeks, on a regular basis, depending on injuries or needs too, of course.

FM: Let’s talk about the Eden Hazard case. How to explain his current situation, when he was one of the best players in the world before arriving at Real Madrid?

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ML: you have to ask him the question (laughs). I know him well, I like him very much. He’s always there in training…

Luka Modrić is an example for everyone »

FM: Are you impressed by the longevity of Luka Modrić, moreover in his position, which requires a lot of energy?

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ML: I know him since a long time. Luka, he is 37 years old, he is in good shape all the time. Almost everyone is like that at Real. He takes good care of himself. But there is also his mentality. He still wants to win everything. He does not give 100% on the pitch, but 200%. He is always there. He knows his body, he knows how to recover, he has incredible willpower, that’s why he’s still here. He’s a warrior. He plays for the team. It’s high class. He is an example for everyone.

FM: Does the mental aspect of a player affect the physical aspect?

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ML: all the time. The body and the mind are a unity. A happy player is almost never injured, if he’s lucky of course, but we have to create the circumstances to be happy in his private life. It’s 50-50.

FM: In Belgium, you are nicknamed “the physiotherapist of the Devils”, “the best physiotherapist in the Kingdom” or even “the physiotherapist of the stars and the star of the physiotherapists”. Are you flattered by these nicknames?

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ML: it motivates for the future. I am in the process of implementing technology in my practice. I like to look in front of me and not behind. I still have the ambition to evolve. If I am content with who I am, I become a danger to my clients. I have to reinvent myself every time. I’m 59, it’s difficult. But everything is changing. It is a very demanding time. I like Picasso, he worked until he was 80 years old or more, so I still have the future ahead of me (laughs).

FM: what are your goals for the future?

ML: I want to optimize what we are doing now. My big dream is to create rehabilitation through free technology on the African continent. I’m not saying that I will succeed, but we will create new things to optimize our work.

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Lieven Maesschalck, the star physiotherapist of Belgium and Real Madrid 24hfootnews.

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