Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpoor, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
In January 2015, Dr Iqbal left the high-profile job at Liverpool FC following his son's illness, before joining Crystal Palace in June, the same year. Photo Credit: PA Photos.

Cricket has had its fair share of injuries and there have been suggestions that due to the lack of resources, it doesn’t have the same Sports Medicine support like other sports in the United States of America, Europe and Australia enjoy.

It was therefore not surprising that there was some interest in the Pakistani media with the recent announcement that the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Peshawar Zalmi recruited Dr Zafar Iqbal.

We at Sportzwiki sought him to find out about his career path and why he wanted to be involved in cricket when he was already involved with an elite football in England!

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Uruguay-based Luis Suarez, who now plays for Spanish Football Club Barcelona was the part of Liverpool FC when Dr Iqbal nursed him. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

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Dr Iqbal, who is currently the Crystal Palace FC Head of Sports Medicine, comes with an extensive career in football having worked at three separate Premier League clubs.  He was born in Sahiwal, the southern part of Punjab in Pakistan and then taken at the age of two months went to live in the UK.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Dr Iqbal met Wasim Akram, who signed a hat for the former in Rochadale after Pakistan lift the 1992 World Cup in Australia. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Dr Iqbal had a chance encounter at the age of 18 when he met former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram in 1992 shortly after Pakistan had won the World Cup (in Melbourne against England) at a friend’s shop in Rochdale – the town of Greater Manchester in England.

Indeed, Dr Iqbal is hoping to meet legendary left-arm fast bowler Akram again to see if they can collaborate on raising awareness of the health problems of Diabetes in the South Asian Community (SAC).

Determined Dr Iqbal later pursued a career in medicine qualifying in 1999, before specializing in sports medicine following his knee injury.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
The first-team doctor was seen offering help to Steven Gerrard on the field during his playing days before the sensational footballer retired to nurse the young talent for Reds football academy as a coach. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

Dr Iqbal has been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the best footballers in the world including current Liverpool academy coach Steven Gerrard followed by Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Philippe Coutinho to name but a few.

He progressed quickly in sports medicine and over the last 12 years working primarily in football. Apart from Liverpool, he has worked with the England FA, Leyton Orient FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, and now Crystal Palace FC.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Excited Iqbal cherished his concurrent time with Crystal Palace FC. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

***

He counts working at Liverpool FC, which is the football team he supports, as a highlight of his career so far. He worked for five seasons at Anfield alongside Australia’s prominent Sports Medicine clinician Peter Brukner.

However, Dr Iqbal returned to London in 2015, to rejoin his family who had stayed there, while he worked in Liverpool.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Renowned Sports Medicine Specialist Dr Iqbal posed with the members of Zesh Rehman Foundation to encourage youth while setting up different sports-based programmes. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

***

On his return to London, Dr Iqbal restarted his work in sports medicine clinics and had the opportunity to work at Crystal Palace FC to head up the Medical department. He is also passionate about teaching and raising awareness of campaigns such as educating people to lead a healthier lifestyle and promoting the need for people to learn about cardiac resuscitation and basic life support.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Dr Iqbal poses with Championship Cup alongside Kenny Dalglish, whose work has been recognized by changing the name of Centenary Stand of the Anfield Stadium. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

***

Dr Iqbal also lectures and writes widely on all aspect of Sports Medicine and as the Chairman of the FA Medical Society for the last 12 years, has been organizing conferences in sports medicine in the UK.  Apart from football, he has worked in Boxing as a Ring Side Dr and with a variety of Sports when athletes have come to see him at his clinics.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
In 2012, Dr Iqbal won Asian Football Award for his outstanding services. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

***

Dr Iqbal had enjoyed a stint as a medical advisor for the long-established outfit of English County Kent Cricket Club (KCC) in England.

With an illustrious career behind him, Dr Zafar Iqbal talks about his role as a medical advisor role for the third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Peshawar Zalmi.

Cyrstal Palace FC, Liverpool, Dr Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan, England, Sports Medicine Clinician, Head of Sports Medicine, Peshawar Zalmi, PSL, Medical Advisor
Being himself as a Liverpool fan, Dr Iqbal poses with the coveted trophy. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/Zaf.

From Liverpool FC to Peshawar Zalmi: Dr Zafar Iqbal is a renowned Sports Medicine clinician and shares his observations and insight into the world of Sports Medicine and his plans in sharing his experiences in cricket of his country of birth.

***

Here’re the excerpts from the exclusive interview with the veteran consultant:

TIM: Kindly, talk us through the overwhelming challenges you have had to face in your professional career in sports medicine. And what impressed you to opt for such a saturated field?

ZI: I’d wanted to be a doctor from the age of 10, ever since my young sister was diagnosed with Brain Cancer at the age of three.

Once I qualified as a doctor, however, my career path changed when I had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury to my right knee. The care I received was pretty poor on the National Health Service and started gaining weight and unhappy.

So, I started learning more about sports Medicine and decided to specialize in Sports Medicine.

Over the last 13 years since deciding to specialize in Sports Medicine, I’ve been working as hard as possible to learn as much as I can and be the best sports doctor that I can be.

I started out setting up National Health Service (NHS) Sports Medicine clinics, Sports Medicine Conferences, lecturing, working voluntarily at sports clubs and one thing led to another.

Not really seen anything as a challenge as I enjoy the work and I know how fortunate I am to have been in the distinct positions.

TIM: Remarkably, you’ve had gained quality experience while working with high-profile football teams; Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur to name a few. Can you tell us about your journey?

ZI: When I first started in Sports Medicine, it was real to help out people like myself who enjoyed amateur sports, but didn’t have access to high-quality sports medicine care unless had private insurance following an injury.

After setting up my clinics and working voluntarily, I got opportunities to work at a Lower League football club Leyton Orient and FA England youth teams.  Then an opportunity came to work at Tottenham Hotspur FC Academy in 2007, followed by the first team in 2008.

I left Tottenham Hotspur FC in 2010 to join Liverpool FC to work alongside Dr Peter Brukner (a renowned sports doctor from Australia, who had been recruited to be the Head of the Medical Department).

In 2012, doctor Brukner moved onto Australian Cricket, and I became the Head of the Sports Medicine Department.

In 2015, I had to leave Liverpool to return to London, as my family had stayed in London.

With Liverpool being in Champions league it was getting difficult having any time – to come back and see them and so something had to give up.

The hardest part of my job has been trying to balance work commitments with giving enough time to family.

I’ve had one week holiday with the family in the last 10 years.  Not that I’m complaining as I love what I do, but sacrifices have been made by me and my family to enable me to do what I love doing.

What you’re expecting at Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Peshawar Zalmi after being roped in as a team doctor?

ZI: Regarding the Zalmi role, I plan to advise and share some of the practices and experiences that I’ve gained over the years working with elite athletes.

Also, I am planning to help use the power of sports and athletes to promote a healthier and active lifestyle in all, especially kids where there’s a growing problem of obesity (which has become a cause of concern of late).

TIM: Which sports, apart from football, you aim to work? What about working with the international cricket teams as a famed medical consultant, who is further known among British circles?

ZI: I already work in cricket (gentleman’s game) with Kent Cricket Club (KCC) and I have a few International cricketers that come over to see me in the UK (United Kingdom).

I also work in Sports Medicine clinics and see patients from a variety of sports.

I have no intention of working full-time with a team that will take me away from London, as I need to be with my family.

TIM: How you see the sport in a nutshell when star athletes you work alongside take the field?

ZI: I love most sports and the pressures that come with it trying to perform at an elite level.  Nothing comes without hard work.

The best players I’ve worked with were also the hardest workers example: Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Philip Coutinho, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric –it’s no coincidence.

I’ve seen many talented players with amazing ability, but have fallen by the wayside as not willing to push themselves.

TIM: How can Pakistan cricket be streamlined with contemporary to international fitness standards after players are struggling to meet the requirements?

ZI: Difficult for me to comment as I’m not working on the setup.

Fitness can always be better in any sport and that comes down to being professional and eating right, looking after yourself and training hard and recovering well is bound to play an imperative role.

TIM: At present, you are working as a Head of Sports Medicine at Crystal Palace Football Club. Tell us about your highlights.

ZI: I’ve loved working at Crystal Palace FC even though it’s not as high profile as the previous clubs I’ve worked with.

When I returned to London, I was planning on spending more time with family and starting sports medicine Clinics.

An opportunity arose at Crystal Palace FC and the aims were for me to lead the sports medicine department and help develop it to the standard of a top premier league club.

I’m lucky that I’ve managed to recruit some good medical personnel in the department who are eventually enthusiastic, experienced and have done a lot of research themselves which helps the department itself.

We managed to reach an FA Cup Final in 2016 and just lost out to Manchester United in extra time which was a shame.

To be honest, every day coming into work is a highlight as I have a great team around me in the department.

TIM: What are the key developments that took place to improve the treatment for athletes since past 17 years?

ZI: We do a lot more screening and monitoring of players to try and help us train players more efficiently and try and help reduce injuries.

The biggest factor is a player themselves. There are some players that just don’t need any monitoring as no amount of training will cause any issues for them.

There are others that need monitoring because any sudden shifts in loading can increase the chance of them getting an injury.

Also, the top sports clubs are putting more investment into medical teams and rehabilitation setups as they realise that they need to protect and help their assets.

TIM: What are the most common injuries you’ve had witnessed athletes endured during your profession?

ZI: It’s all depending on what sport and position you’re in. In football, I see lots of thigh, knee and ankle injuries.

In cricket, if they are a bowler they tend to have back and shoulder issues.

TIM: After witnessing the injury-marred Sri Lanka changed, the management appointed as many as five captains when four sustained injuries during the bilateral series against India. How could players stay injury-free or at least less prone to injury during their careers?

ZI: Difficult for me to comment about information that I don’t have access to.

As already mentioned the players can improve their chances of staying injury free by being professional, training harder, eating well, reporting injuries sooner and recovering well.

TIM: Which sports pose a higher risk for the much-talked-about concussions and what you think should be done as early as possible?

ZI: Difficult to give a short answer. Some sports concussion are more likely where obvious head impact takes place, the best example is coming from Rugby, American Football and Boxing.

The key is doing screening, pre-competition assessments and having good clinicians to be able to assess and advice regarding safe return to play.

TIM: The ACL injury is said to be one of the worst knee injuries that any athlete can have, do you agree? After undergoing surgery what athlete needs to take care of as soccer players are said to be more prone to career-ending knee injuries?

ZI: For more than 20 years, ACL injuries have been recognized as no longer a career ending injury as the surgical outcomes in the right hands are positive and no reason why a player can’t resume playing.

The difficulty lies in the rehabilitation process which takes at least a minimum of six months if talking about an uncomplicated ACL reconstruction but can take up to 18 months before a professional player would return to the level of performance he was in before the injury.

The biggest concerns are injuries where there is damage to articular cartilage in the ankle or knees as these don’t tend to heal themselves and the surgical outcomes are variable and inevitably reduce the career span or ability to play maximally if they didn’t have the cartilage injury.

TIM: What’s your take on cricket as you have yourself a great affection for it?

ZI: I love most sports and being Pakistani I simply love cricket having grown up on watching Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and of course Imran Khan and who can forget the 1992 World Cup triumph.

Supporting the Pakistan Cricket team is certainly not for those of a nervous disposition.

As a former England skipper now cricket commentator Nasser Hussain once said: “Pakistan cricket at its best! One minute down. Next minute up”.

I try and play at least one game a year usually that would be between students taking on lecturers and the result more often would be lecturers emerging as winners.

I enjoy my work with Kent Cricket Club and also the cricketers that come over to see me, as it allows me to work closely with sportsmen other than just footballers.

TIM: How do you manage clubs players throughout the season? What are the special plans taking place during the whole set-up?

ZI: Combination of having a good preseason, screening and monitoring players daily to try and pick up issues before they become bigger problems or long-term injuries.

Also, having an understanding manager helps who is willing to listen to the advice from the medical and sports science team.

ZI: While talking about medical evolution how it has benefitted to the field of sports? Describe the role of the medical head and what goes into that in sports field?

ZI: I’m responsible for the medical welfare of the players and in charge of the medical team supporting this.

So, all players are screened medically when joining the club to highlight any issues and make sure that from a cardiovascular perspective they are safe to train.

Each morning the medical team has a meeting where we review all player and any potential problems and then report to manager regarding player availability.

The rest of the time its reviewing players when any medical or injury issues arise during training or playing games.

I’m present with the team throughout the season and travel with them.

Of course, I couldn’t do this without the rest of my colleagues in the medical team which I’m fortunate to have help recruit and we’ve got an excellent medical team built up over the last 2 seasons.

Ultimately it’s about the results on the pitch and so we have to do everything possible to make as many players available and perform to the best of their abilities for the manager.

TIM: To conclude, what is your piece of advice to the doctors who are interested in sports medicine?

ZI: Simple advice. Study and qualify as a doctor and then specialize in Sports Medicine and continue learning as much as possible and work as hard as you can and be ready to make sacrifices in personal and social life – to achieve the goal you dreamt of.

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    Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a staffer at Sportzwiki.com, who follows cricket like food after listening to running commentary on a transistor radio when he was only eight, and penned down the scorecard when he turned 11. He Tweets @TahirIbnManzoor

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