When Barcelona meet Arsenal in their Champions League encounter on the 24th of February, the Catalans could be taking to the pitch with a very significant advantage. The defending champions have pioneered the widespread use of DNA analysis for their squad, thus reducing the occurence of injuries, with only Rafinha being absent from the first team.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, Barcelona doctor Ricard Pruna has been busy at work collecting DNA samples to identify a player’s proneness to injury. Matilda Lundblad, a Swedish doctor who is working with Pruna on a research project, said “It is very sci-fi. Doctor Ricard and I are looking at the genes in saliva and finding ways to individualise fitness programmes.”
Pruna has been busy swabbing the Barcelona player’s mouths, studying the genetic makeup of Barcelona’s highly tuned performers. The DNA profile is then used to identify any predilection to muscle injuries, allowing Barcelona’s medical staff to create specialized training regimes for each individual player.
It appears that Barcelona’s pioneering use of DNA analysis has paid off, as despite Lionel Messi suffering a two-month injury, the overall occurence has gone down in the 42 games Barcelona have played this season. In stark contrast, Arsenal who have played four less, have endured another injury ravaged season, despite an overhaul of fitness staff in the summer.
DNA testing gradually rising in football
Ricard Pruna is focussing on about 45 genes to improve Barcelona’s injury situation, although past testing by other clubs round the world have identified about a 100 genes as indicators to injury likelihood and player performance.
In 2011, an unnamed Premier League club asked, Marios Kambouris, then a molecular geneticist at Yale to carry out tests on their players. Kambouris revealed the outcome, saying “I have no idea which players they were but there were good genes in there, things which would positively affect their performance, such as their ability to have better aerobic respiration, which would give them more stamina on the pitch.”
DNA testing reveals quite a bit about a player’s injury proneness. For example, mutations in the COL5A1 gene can cause tendons to become loosely supported, thus indicating a tendency for muscle injuries.
Glen Johnson and Bryan Ruiz are two Premier League players to have confirmed their use of DNA testing while at Liverpool and Fulham respectively.