LIVERPOOL -- Dr. Aboul Shaheir calls it "chasing blood." It is one of the best demanding genitalia of his job.
Everton's club doctor supervises the accelerated concrete examinations that players accept afore a alteration is complete. I was about to abide the aforementioned medical to apprentice about the aing apparatus of avant-garde football, but also, conceivably selfishly, to apprentice a little about myself.
Real footballers rarely fail. (When they do, it's generally beneath arguable cirstances, such as George Boyd's "inconclusive eyes test" at Nottingham Forest; Ruud van Nistelrooy's bootless attack to canyon Manchester United's fettle demands; or Loic Remy's aching move to Liverpool.) Shaheir has never bootless a amateur at Everton but he continues to anatomize every signing, aloof in case, with one eye on anniversary admission address and the added on the clock.
Blood ignment takes the longest to process. Through the use of committed bagman casework and clandestine labs, Shaheir has bargain his delay for after-effects from 12 urs to four. He still finds himself fending off afraid agents and club admiral while alteration windows t to their close. That's why I sed my day with a istant alleged Maxine sipning what seemed to be several pints of claret out of my arm.
"I consistently alpha with the blood," Shaheir said.
Actually, the day sed with a far added aching experience: allocation my Everton kit.
Watch Everton put 44-year-old Chris Jones through his paces to acquisition out if he's accessible for a Premier Alliance contract.
Let's get this out of the way. I'm declared to say that my greatest antecedent of pride is my children, but they haven't absolutely done annihilation that special. They're approved kids, and there are billions of tse. My greatest antecedent of pride is that I still comedy aggressive football at age 44. There are players in my alliance as adolescent as 18. I've abreast ped that one day I'll comedy alongside my youngest son, w is 10. Eight added years. That makes 52.
Luckily, I'm a goalkeeper. Unluckily, I'm abbreviate and fat. I'm 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds. I afraid that Everton wouldn't accept a kit that fit me, and I searched for a ogously sized player. In added words, I looked up Wayne Rooney. He's a agnate acme but 30 pounds lighter. I warned Everton in beforehand that they would be outfitting Wayne Rooney … if Wayne Rooney were abundant with twins.
It was a crisp, sunny, late-winter morning aback I actomed at Finch Farm, Everton's attractive training adeptness and academy. Now I apperceive what heaven looks like: a bright, avant-garde architecture committed to ning the finest athletes, amidst by bright football pitches and grounds.
It can ume as admitting Finch Farm is a annex for concrete excellence, every additional inch adherent to self-improvement. A urance in the cafeteria implores players to "EAT LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY." A laptop-connected force belvedere in the gym will abandon the aboriginal able-bodied imbalance. My afraid float anon activated, and a laminated agenda aloft anniversary urinal instructs you to yze the colour of your urine to orted beverages. If your urine looks like water, you're able-bodied hydrated. If your urine looks like Coca-Cola -- I'm not exaggerating actuality -- anxiety the doctor.
I emerged (Orange Fanta) and was handed my kit, thankfully in slimming black. I aloof to a bathrobe room. The lockers were abounding with the furnishings of stars, present and future. I forgave myself the fantasy that I absolutely was on the border of aing Everton, ertive to advice a acclaimed club accomplish their applicable abode in the Premier League.
I was afresh ed by Shaheir aloft boondocks to Everton's clandestine dispensary of cice, area Maxine began my day's additional clarification in a allowance abounding with syringes and vials. She additionally ed my finger, applying a bead of claret to a band of paper. "HIV test," she said. It works like a abundance test. Despite actuality adequately ured that I don't accept HIV, I still bent myself staring at that band of paper, acquisitive it told me what I believed to be true.
I ped. Little did I apperceive that over the aing several urs, the accuracy would never afresh be so kind.
Chris Jones gets inspected during his Everton medical. Chris Jones / ESPN FC
After the blood, Shaheir submits abeyant Everton players to a medical questionnaire. Not surprisingly, it's trough. A alteration adeptness amount the club tens of millions of pounds, and allowance liabilities beggarly that Shaheir is doubly anxious about his findings. He asked me about every bend of my body's clue record, from my axial afraid arrangement (no worries) to my brainy bloom (highly suspect). One by one, he captivated anniversary of my circuits and fuses up to the light.
I had bound to amut the day seriously: I capital to canyon Everton's test. My medical history, wever, is what adeptness be alleged checkered. I've had several consions. Torn my groin. Broken my larboard sulder, appropriate elbow, a rib and both feet. Four decades of goalkeeping additionally accept apparent me breach both hands, breach both thumbs and breach six of my fingers. Two seasons ago, I burst my appropriate basis feel in six places while aggravating to bolt a bend kick; today, it looks like a annex from a actual old tree.
I hesitated aback Shaheir asked me about some of my added airy scars. Consions, for instance, addled me as article he wouldn't apperceive about unless I accepted them. I accepted to Shaheir that I was cerebration about lying to him. I can't accept been the abandoned amateur w had.
Shaheir befuddled his head. "Nobody has aria to me," he said. He is Egyptian by bearing and still carries an accent. What he meant, I presumed, was that he has never bent anybody in a lie.
He befuddled his arch again. He said I was attractive at him the amiss way. He wasn't a attendant continuing amid me and aggregate I wanted. He was a medical professional, actuality to advice me accomplish my ambitions. Best of us see doctors as the bearers of bad news. Able athletes see doctors not as board but as allies. Doctors don't block their aisle to success; doctors are an capital allotment of it.
I told Shaheir aggregate I knew about myself. He nodded and took accurate notes. I asked him whether I had bootless the medical as a result. He ured me that I had not. I was damaged, he said. We all are. That doesn't beggarly we're aloft repair.
Of course, I hadn't taken the fettle ysis yet.
The animal affection is an absurd machine. It doesn't aloof arresting every emotion; its accent tells so abundant of our story. Its abortion additionally can be calamitous. The gsts of dozens of collapsed players abode the game, reminders of the adverse airiness of alike our heroes: Marc-Vivien Foe, Miklos Feher, Antonio Puerta, Patrick Ekeng, Davide Astori. The English Football Association mandates that every player, able and academy, receives an anniversary cardiogram. Afore Everton would acquiesce me to booty a footfall on their aboriginal pitches, I had to accept my affection seen.
Dr. David Ramsdale is a top-flight National Bloom Service (NHS) cardiologist and adviser for Everton, acclaimed for his aen and care. I acquainted advantageous to appointment him. First, he was activity to watch a artisan administrate a 12-lead electrocardiogram to me, so that he could ascertain any flaws in my heart's currents. Afresh he was activity to attending at a adviser while that aforementioned artisan apprenticed an ultrasound baton adjoin my chest. Ramsdale was activity to watch my affection beat.
"You're absolutely the hairiest amateur we've seen," the artisan said afore battlefront up her electric razor. (There were a lot of alongside glances aback I absolved into the awash spital in my abounding kit. Some abandoned rumors about Everton's affairs sed that day.) The artisan as a dozen tabs to me in the clearings she had fabricated in my club-leading anatomy hair. The burst of my affection anon abounding the room. I had a comatose affection amount of about 70 beats per minute. Not too bad, I tught.
Then Ramsdale looked at my affection on the monitor, the ultrasound baton sometimes dug into my armpit to bigger the angle. It's aberrant to watch your affection beat, its accommodation and valves acting in about conflicting concert to accord you life. It's aberrant too w little acquainted anion we accord the actual affair that drives us. My affection has been ault afterwards blow aback afore I was born. Now I captivated my animation aback Ramsdale gave his verdict: normal.
"I ane you beggarly perfect," I said.
"You accept a perfect--," Ramsdale said, "--ly actomed heart."
Football hearts are altered beasts. "They're superhuman," he said. The affection is a muscle, and admitting it doesn't abound like a bicep, it does change admeasurement and anatomy with austere exercise. Ramsdale said he can adumbrate a player's position based on his affection alone. (Midfielders accept the largest; goalkeepers, obviously, the best le.) He has apparent players with alcove walls so thick, he has had to ask them to stop training to actuate whether their fortifications are the artefact of a complete birthmark or their own efforts. He has apparent comatose affection ante in the 30s. He has apparent hearts that could be mistaken for engines.
Back at Finch Farm, I was afresh beggared to a affection monitor, this time by Matt Taberner, Everton's full-time sports scientist. I already had completed the club's cutting-edge backbone tests -- about a admeasurement of the force generated by your legs -- and was actomed the activation aftereffect of "OK." (Understand that my legs are my one concrete affection that could be declared as special. I can do the aftermost weight on a leg press. Strangers accept fabricated fun of my calves, but by the standards of the Premier League, my legs are "OK.")
My affection amount swed up on Taberner's watch: 70, still at rest. I additionally was cutting a GPS belong that would clue my movements. "There are no secrets here," Taberner said. My affection amount went up a little. His brainless watch said so.
We stepped alfresco into the sun, area Taberner had set up a alternation of cones on one of the alfresco pitches. So aing to glory. I had never apparent curve corrective so straight. I was about to run Everton's basal conditioning test, an abominable beep test. It wasn't meant to acquisition my aiguille achievement but to booty a adequately accidental attending at my all-embracing fitness, in accurate my heart's adeptness to balance from abstinent exertion. I would run 20 meters amid cones, aback and forth, with 10 abnormal of blow amid sprints. Anniversary would alpha and accomplishment with the complete of added common beeps. I would accept to run steadily faster for six account to get a result.
I lasted aloof over four minutes. At that point, Taberner appear with added than a adumbration of anxiety that my affection amount was 186. I couldn't bolt my animation and fell to my knees. Afresh on my face. Afterwards about a minute, my affection amount had alone to 165. Shaheir came over to ysis on me. "Are you activity all right?" he asked.
I was not.
The biographer takes a breach during the fettle tests at Finch Farm. Chris Jones / ESPN FC
Later, Taberner told me that the boilerplate Everton amateur would complete that aforementioned ysis with a best affection amount of 120. Alike added remarkably, afterwards a minute of rest, the player's affection amount would bead by about 50 beats. Afterwards six account of sprints, he wouldn't be anywhere abreast his best capacity, and he would acknowledgment to a adequate 70 beats, my accompaniment of rest, aural a minute.
A avant-garde amateur adeptness awning 10 kilometers during a 90-minute match, which doesn't ume that arduous. The ambush lies in w they're accoutrement that ground: in fits and ss, with the deceleration to cut or about-face aloof as backbreaking as the dispatch appropriate to t or elude. Like sports cars, every ounce of added weight tells, and in a game, that adeptness articulation on a distinct absent step; conditioning can be the aberration amid adaptation and relegation.
Today's footballers absolutely are champions of the species.
I was abandoned adhering to life.
The last, now absurd affiliate of the day was a full-body MRI. It's the allotment of the medical that players abrrence the most. The MRI is the best acceptable allotment of the action to acknowledge article amiss with them. It's additionally absolutely boring. Outfield players get their spines, pelvis, knees and ankles scanned. That takes about two urs of absolute stillness. Goalkeepers accept to add their sulders, elbows and easily to the mix. That takes about three urs.
Lying in the claustropbic tube of the machine, I stared at the stark-white beam that was abandoned a few inches from my face. While the scanners chattered abroad -- suboptimal my after-effects would eventually, accordingly apprehend -- I advised my abounding failings. Not aloof w abominably I had austere my medical, but additionally w abundant I had aria to myself over the decades before.
How could I anytime ane I adeptness still comedy football at age 52? I can bethink the aboriginal time I was referred to as "the fat keeper." That was apparently 15 years ago. Eight years from now, I wasn't activity to be arena on the aforementioned arena as my son. I'd be advantageous to be aloft it.
I went me. I looked at the clutter aliment in my cupboards and at the active ses I hardly anytime abrasion anymore. I additionally apprehend over the final address from my day with Everton, the hardest of adamantine numbers. The claret results, as Shaheir had predicted, had been the aftermost to arrive. He beatific me a affable note, adage I suld accord him a anxiety to altercate them. My alarmist and thyroid adeptness charge a afterpiece look.
I had two cices. I could accord up, a anatomy too far gone, or I could see that I accept so abundant allowance to improve. We're all damaged. We're not all aloft repair. I remembered aback Shaheir told me that.
I trusted him. I absitively to alpha with a walk. I dusted off my ses and stepped outside. It took me about 30 account to get to my children's scol. The alarm rang. The doors opened. And for the additional time in as abounding days, I saw heaven.
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