Jean Pierre Meersseman, the founder of AC Milan’s renowned ‘Milan Lab’ is a much celebrated individual whose techniques have helped players like Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Serginho and Cafu play into their late thirties and even early forties. At the age of 40, Costacurta is the oldest outfield player ever to feature in a UEFA Champions League match - testament to Meerssman’s unorthodox methods at the Milan Lab, which combine his specialiszms of Kinesiology and Chiropractice to aid the long-term development of the Rossoneri’s players.
Although undoubtedly successful, the Milan Lab’s methods haven’t been universally accepted as ‘scientific’, with certain commentators suggesting that Meersseman’s claim that he restored Clarence Seedorf’s back by removing his wisdom teeth either a lie or completely coincidental. However, similar methods were used to treat David Beckham, who wore a support in his mouth to close a gap between two of his teeth to fix an incorrect spinal balance - again, the results were overwhelmingly positive, allowing Beckham to continue playing at the highest level until his retirement at the age of 38.
Established in 2002, a period in which Milan were considered one of the strongest teams in European football, the Milan Lab has since gone on to carry out over 1,200,000 physical, mental and structural tests, allowing Milan to decrease its non-traumatic muscle injuries by over 92%.
The Milan Lab’s work centres around their test circuit, which sees players undergo a monthly assessment. In this assessment the players are instructed to complete shuttle runs, bar pull-ups, weightlifting, vertical jumps and an agility test to assess which parts of their body are weakest and therefore more susceptible to injuries. Additionally, players must complete a PSI test to monitor their psychic ability as well as an electromyography test, which measures muscle response to nervous stimulation.
These tests give the Milan Lab an opportunity to predict injuries before they happen and give their players individual training regimes and diets to better prepare them for matchdays and the strains that come with being a professional football player. Meerssman states, ‘Unfortunately, medical doctors and therapists have to wait until an injury happens, I’m not interested in that, I’m interested in the fact of figuring out why it happened and trying to prevent it from happening to start with, that’s the point’.
The fact that the Milan Lab measure every aspect of its players physical and mental attributes has meant that in the first year of their implementation, total practice days lost to injury fell be 43% and the use of medicine decreased by 70%. This meant that not only were Milan’s coaches able to better prepare for matches due to having all their players available, they also saved money which could be put towards improved coaching facilities and even transfers.
Jean Pierre Meersseman has moved across to England recently, setting up his own independent clinic for players in the English Premier League. With players now viewed as assets by their clubs, serious injuries can represent significant financial losses, meaning that Meersseman’s services have been highly in demand.
It’s not surprising then that the Milan Lab’s work has created a lot of positive attention - consider that there are 24.6 to 34.8 injuries per 1000 competitive match hours and 5.8 to 7.6 injuries per 1000 hours in male football matches, and the need for long-term injury prevention programs become even more essential. When you also consider that elite players including, Sergio Agüero, Mesut Özil, Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere all continue to have their careers blighted by injury, there is still a real need for improved prevention techniques across many of Europe’s main football leagues.
Although Meersseman’s techniques at the Milan Lab remain unorthodox, it’s difficult to argue with the results that his clinics have achieved. Decreasing Milan’s non-traumatic muscle injuries by over 92% would have been imperative to the Italian club’s success in the early part of the last decade, allowing them to maintain an experienced side that could also handle the physical side of the game. The fact that AC Milan fielded a starting line-up in the 2005 Champions League final which had an average age of 31 years and 34 days, the oldest ever in the history of the tournament, demonstrates the success that the Milan Lab had on its players at the time.