SHANGHAI, China, Mar 30 – It was the 2015 Champions League and Paris Saint-Germain’s chances took a hit even before their daunting quarter-final against Barcelona with the news that central defender David Luiz faced several weeks out.
The Brazilian international looked sure to miss both legs against the eventual European champions with a serious hamstring tear.
Luiz contacted his fellow Brazilian Eduardo Santos, then employed by Zenit St. Petersburg, and flew off to Russia in a desperate bid to keep his Champions League hopes alive.
With Santos’s medical intervention, Luiz stunned observers by recovering in just a few days to play 69 minutes as a substitute in the first leg and the whole second leg.
PSG were beaten 5-1 on aggregate, but Santos was dubbed “miracle doctor” in French media.
Santos, 38, now head of the medical department at Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League (CSL), blushes at the nickname.
But it helped forge his reputation among many of the world’s top footballers as the go-to man for getting back to fitness in rapid time — and keeping them there.
A list of some of the stars to have sought his help would make a very decent five-a-side team: Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes; Manchester City’s Eliaquim Mangala with Luiz in defence; Mousa Demeble of Tottenham in midfield; Radamel Falcao of Monaco in attack.
– Fixing Hulk –
“What we do is not a miracle,” Santos told AFP at the training ground of SIPG, who broke the Asian transfer record last year to buy attacking midfielder Oscar for 60 million euros from Chelsea and also boast another Brazilian star, the formidable forward Hulk.
“I do science, and of course the results that I have are really, really good. Normally in football, most of the injuries happen in the hamstring muscle. But at SIPG, we don’t have these kinds of injuries.”
SIPG had a noticeable lack of injuries last season in coming second in the CSL under Andre Villas-Boas, since replaced by another Portuguese coach, Vitor Pereira.
“We give a coach a very good headache because he can choose whoever he wants to play, there’s no injuries,” Santos said.
Yet Santos’s spectacular results have left some fellow professionals in doubt.
“I’m a scientist and base my work on what has been published,” the French doctor Jean-Pierre de Mondenard told France Football magazine.
“If he (Santos) wants to remove any doubt, he has to stop all the mystery because when there’s mystery, there’s suspicion.”
Santos, who was with Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands before moving to Zenit and then SIPG in September 2016, laughs off attempts to glean more details about what makes him so successful.
But he said good communication between the coaching and medical teams is critical.
He described how they stopped the bulldozer-like Hulk getting injured.
Hulk, Santos and former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Villas-Boas were at Zenit at the time. All three would later move to SIPG.
“At that time Hulk was getting a lot of injuries, a lot of problems,” Santos said.
“When you look at Hulk, you think, ‘Wow, he’s a very strong player.’
“But he has weak muscles, his hamstrings were very poor, he doesn’t have any kind of power in his hamstrings.
“He had a lot of power in his quadriceps (front of the thighs), but in the hamstrings — zero.
“So we started balancing his muscles because we made a personal evaluation of him, we found the problem, we made the programme of rehabilitation and preventive work.
“And from there? No problems anymore.”
– Adopting Chinese methods –
Santos said he left Zenit in 2016 after SIPG stumped up one million euros for him, in what was effectively a transfer much like when a player switches clubs.
Prising Santos away for that kind of money is testament to his reputation, and Chinese football’s growing financial clout.
Santos — who can treat players from other sides if called upon — has a medical team of eight at SIPG and wanted all his staff to be Chinese, partly because he was eager to learn new expertise from them.
He is a convert to the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine, particularly acupuncture.
“In my programme of rehabilitation I mix the Western way with the things that we use here in Asia because of course I cannot come here to China and ask the Chinese players that are used to being treated with Chinese medicine since they are really young to just, ‘Come on, forget what you do.’
“I don’t like that.”
Santos says he has resisted offers to work for major European clubs because he has freedom at “open-minded” SIPG.
And he said that at some big European teams, not enough importance is given to the medical side.
“For me, it’s very, very strange. They need to invest money in the medical team, not just buy the best machines in the world, they need to invest in the humans that are working there.
“And have a coach that listens to them.”