Manchester United announced a scientific partnership yesterday which it is claimed will enable them to predict which players are prone to injury six to 12 months beforehand and solve injury problems which are the worst in the Premier League.
The deal with Toshiba makes United the first club in world football to make a supplier of medical equipment an official partner and it will make the club's new £13m facility opening at Carrington next month the most advanced such medical facility in the world, according to the Japanese firm, with a standard of medical kit usually reserved only for university teaching hospitals.
Research carried out at the end of last season by sports injury website physioroom.com showed that United suffered the worst injury list in the Premier League during the 2011-12 campaign, with the club sustaining 39 significant problems – those lasting for at least two weeks – which amounted to a total 1,681 days lost to injury by Sir Alex Ferguson's squad. Ferguson admitted last month that he had spotted on the training pitch that captain Nemanja Vidic, below, was not 100 per cent, despite returning to action after a knee injury. He broke down again last month and is out until late next month, with the absence of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling also crippling United's defence.
The new medical centre, with which United plan to emulate the physiological and sports science benefits enjoyed by Milan at their world-renowned Milanello complex, puts them in pursuit of the Holy Grail of being able to predict when players are vulnerable to injury.
Toshiba believe they can deliver that. They will provide MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) equipment with twice the standard magnetic field measure, allowing Ferguson's medical staff to examine muscle fibres and the most minute ligament tear. Ultrasound equipment will now be available for diagnostic work – a substantial new development in that field. Individual muscle fibres, tendons and fluids – a sign of damage – may all be established through ultrasound images and video.
The ability to examine muscle tissue so microscopically and predicatively is the major gain for United – even though this partnership has come too late to save the career of the midfielder Owen Hargreaves – who cost the club £17m and played just 26 times – or to have resolved sooner the back problems which have plagued Rio Ferdinand.
The specialist fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, who has worked with Wales and Manchester City, said yesterday that injury prediction would be a remarkable development in football.
But with Manchester City currently developing the £200m Etihad Campus facility which they believe will be the best in the football world when it opens for the 2014-15 season, Ferguson insisted that his club's partnership "will put us above most clubs in the world."