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Eduardo Santos – the world’s first seven-figure physio

When Trevor Francis became the first million-pound footballer in 1979, he was the subject of endless hyperbolic headlines. It was news, not just within the world of football, but in the mainstream media too. Nowadays, things are a little different; with billions upon billions pouring into the game from kaleidoscopic revenue streams, seven figure-sums are the norm. Well, the norm for players anyway…

When Eduardo Santos swapped St. Petersburg for Shanghai in 2016, he became the first medical professional to command a seven-figure fee. “In my opinion, they pay very cheap,” the man himself says of the move, a twinkle in his eye. Eduardo may have been joking, but that it took so long for those in his profession to be the subject of big-money moves is surprising.

“Imagine that you buy a top car, but you cannot use it because the car is broken – and nobody can fix it,” he analogises. Fleshing out his metaphor, Eduardo tells Soccer Hub about the circumstances that brought him to Shanghai SIPG three years ago: “[they] bought Hulk, he became the biggest transfer at that moment in China and he became one of the highest salaried players in the world. But he played only one game and he got injured.”

“At that moment in SIPG, no one could get him back playing. They had three foreign players injured and some very important players from the squad also injured. The squad availability at that time was around 69%. They were losing points, losing games, and losing a lot of money,” Eduardo continued. The Brazilian’s impact was almost immediate: “In three months we had the squad availability to 96%.”

Two years later, Santos had proved beyond doubt that he was worth every renminbi: “in 2018, we became [Super] League champions for the first time in the club’s history.” His pride was evident. Eduardo has worked in Brazil, Holland, Russia and China and had won trophies before, but the Super League triumph is arguably his greatest achievement and one that can be traced directly to his work as head of the club’s medical department.

“In Zenit, we can see that we became the best club [in the Champions League] that year with the least injury rate,” Eduardo tells us, using data from the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons to illustrate his point. “The average [days taken for a player to return from injury] is 40 days; we took four times less.” In Asia, his results were similar: “Nine days compared to 38 days average.”

The data couldn’t be clearer. But what is the man who has been dubbed the ‘Miracle Doctor’s’ secret? “If I tell you, it will not be a secret anymore,” he says, chuckling before going on to explain his philosophy. “Footballers’ bodies are their business. They need to take care of them very well.”

“I need to treat his body, his mind also. The player is not just a muscle, we need to take care of the chain of the player.” For Eduardo, this means taking a “global view” when treating injuries and considering that a player’s complaint might be caused by something other than what’s causing him pain. “I don’t like to use protocols… I like to check, to understand, to make an individual assessment.”

The care Eduardo and other physios give to footballers is perpetual: “we spend more time with them than with our families.” As such, they need to understand each other’s situations. Eduardo speaks fascinatingly on the challenges he has faced in adapting to the culture of his players in SIPG: “when I came to China, I understand they have their own way of treatment. I cannot come here and say ‘look, traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t work. We need to do everything like we do in Europe.”

“So, I started learning more about traditional Chinese medicine and how they work with that. We have a lot of studies that show it can work in the emergency and remove pain for the players. So, I started implementing my programme of medicine, but also Chinese medicine.”

“I used to say I have a toolbox, and every country that I pass I put one more tool in my box,” Eduardo says. Clearly, his collection is paying dividends. A quick scroll down Eduardo’s Twitter feed reveals a whole host of stars who have come to China seeking treatment from the Miracle Doctor: Diogo Dalot, Miguel Layún, Moussa Marega, the list goes on and on.

But do other clubs’ physios not object to Eduardo treating their players? “We have very good communication with other clubs. I also do that [send players away for treatment] because I cannot treat everything. So, if I have someone that’s better than me in shoulder rehabilitation, for sure I’m gonna call him.” “If you think you know everything, you know nothing,” he elaborates. “For me, the most important thing is not who treated him but when he is ready to play for the club.”

An academic with four degrees but also a man with a wealth of real-world experience, Eduardo is the embodiment of Soccer Hub’s core values. “You need to be willing to learn from others, and you need to be willing to let others help you because then you’re gonna give your patient the best results.”

“What I love in my profession is that you are learning, every day, new philosophies of work.” Soon, you too will be able to learn with Eduardo as he teaches his very own course here on Soccer Hub.

A UK-based writer and philosophy graduate, Adam has penned millions of words on the history, tactics and culture of the beautiful game. He is a regular columnist for Soccer Hub and has covered football events all around the globe.

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