By Malik Riaz Hai Naveed, Webmaster & Chief Edtior
We at FootballPakistan.Com (FPDC) had the exclusive Chance to talk to Dr. Zaf Iqbal who is the first team Doctor and english Premier League Side Liverpool FC. With players like Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll and others the Reds are regularly a contender for the Premier League Title.
FootballPakistan.Com: Dr. Zaf Iqbal congratulations for your Nomination for the Asian Football Award! How do you feel about it?
Dr. Zaf Iqbal: Thankyou. To be nominated for an award for recognition of any work that you do is fantastic and even more rewarding, as it’s for a job that I enjoy so much. I am just happy being appreciated by anyone that I’m able to help. Working at Liverpool FC has obviously raised my profile further and allowed me to be involved with other projects outside Liverpool FC, which probably contributed to my nomination for this award. These include projects such as promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles especially in the South Asian community and schools through the Zesh Rehman Foundation, Sporting Equals and writing articles in national magazines. The nomination probably means more to my parents as it will mean others acknowledge my success which has come on the back of their hard work.
FPDC: Could you tell us about your background? What made you a doctor? How did you became so good at that area of medicine?
ZI: I was born in Pakistan and came over to England with my parents when I was 2 months old. My father worked as a bus driver and mum in a shop and made huge sacrifices and encouraged me to study. My decision to become a doctor was very personal as I had a young sister who had brain cancer and the care she received inspired me to follow the health care profession. I qualified as a doctor in 1999 and decided to specialise in Sports and Exercise medicine in 2004. This was following my own knee injury during a game of football and I found that the care that I received was not adequate and so I decided to study further and haven’t stopped studying since. I didn’t return to Pakistan until 2005 and again in 2007 where I was involved in voluntary medical camps after being moved by the widespread coverage of the horrific Earthquake disaster. I would love to return but haven’t been able to due to family and work commitments.
My strong work ethic and drive has come from both my parents as I remember how much they struggled and strived to ensure the best for their kids. Their reward is seeing me succeed and that encourages me even more to be the best I can be which has been acknowledged wherever I’ve worked.
FPDC: What qualification a doctor must have to get to the level that you are?
ZI: After obtaining my Medical degree in 1999, I’ve been studying further qualifications with the most relevant being an MSc in Sports and Exercise medicine. Then it was a case of gaining knowledge through various Sports and Exercise Medicine clinics and sports teams and hoping for a bit of luck that a team would take a chance with you. A lot of my free time was taken up initially doing voluntary work just to gain the relevant experience and that is something that many who wish to follow in my footsteps fail to appreciate. Quite simply my aim is to provide the best Sports Medicine care available and specialist advice in the world for the players.
FPDC: Do you like and play football yourself?
ZI: I love football and try and play regularly. Unfortunately my body no longer is able to do what my brain thinks it could do 10 years ago, which is very frustrating. I still keep as active as possible as I know if I stop then my Pakistani genes will kick in and I’ll start gaining weight. Another perk of the job is being able to play against the coaching staff and a particular highlight has been playing against Kenny Dalglish who is still able to make me look foolish on the pitch despite his age. I don’t enjoy the game as much when I’m working as I’m focused watching the players to make sure there are no problems or anyone requiring medical attention.
FPDC: Why are some players injury prone and others play years without one and what fitness parameters should a professional footballer have?
ZI: That’s a very difficult question to answer without going into great detail and if I had the definitive answer I think I’d be a very rich man. There are various areas that we focus on from the medical aspect and these include cardiovascular and strength conditioning. We also undertake regular significant injury prevention work to try and reduce injuries which is tailored to the individual player. There is no doubt that there is a genetic component or ability of the players body to cope with injury which is not fully understood as yet. Another key component is having a good Sports and exercise medical team to help improve the fitness of the players, diagnose and manage their injuries correctly and quickly. We look at all areas of the players wellbeing to optimise their health, even to the extent of the sleep they have. Finally having a manager who understands the medical work also helps and I’ve been fortunate on that front.
FPDC: Since you also have Pakistani blood, what advise would you give our players back in Pakistan do become successful?
ZI: Quite simply there is no substitute for hard work. There are no short cuts and there are very few examples of players who have succeeded just on natural talent alone. All the best players that I’ve worked with continue working and have a strong desire to improve themselves. People say I’m lucky to be in the work that I am to which I reply ‘I agree and the harder that I work, the luckier I get’.
FPDC: Who is the fittest player you have worked with?
ZI: At my last Club Tottenham Hotspur, Gareth Bale was an unbelievable athlete. At Liverpool there are a few players that I could mention but would be unfair to the others.
FPDC: Do you know of other fellow Pakistanis in the top administration or team management of a football club?
ZI: There are a couple of doctors that I’ve worked with who are now working in Professional football and I’ve recently come across some other Pakistanis who have worked as physiotherapists and also on the committee boards of clubs. To be honest I’ve not really thought about the fact that I’m of Pakistani origin working in elite professional football. It seems to be more of an issue for others but I accept I’m in a privileged position and it has helped when I’ve wanted to communicate a particular health promotion message especially among the South Asian community. Where-ever I’ve worked I’ve not hidden the fact that I’m a Pakistani Muslim and its not been a problem and I have been accepted. During Ramadan when I’m fasting I’ll often get the players telling me that its sunset and time for me to eat!
FPDC: Besides football, what are your other hobbies in life? How do you spend your time outside football?
ZI: Whenever I have a spare moment I spend with my wife and kids. My wife has no interest in football and so brings me back down to earth. My kids enjoy watching the games on TV to see if they can spot me on the bench. I enjoy cooking, writing, watching films and using my position to try and help others.
FPDC: Thank you so much for your time and we wish you all the best Dr. Iqbal.
ZI: Thankyou for asking me for the interview and all the best with your website and I hope you succeed in all your aims for it.