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Transfer Medicals 101

By Andrew Crowell

Professional soccer players have to go through rigorous medical examinations (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami)

The transfer window is one of the most important and exciting parts of the MLS season. For transfers to go through during this crucial period, athletes considered at the top of their game must prove themselves through a physical exam/test called a medical. 

Passing a transfer medical is not always straightforward. For example, a player with an injury history might need to prove to his potential new team that past injuries do not hamper his physical ability. When clubs toss millions of dollars toward a new player for their roster, they want to ensure their investment does not go to waste.

What components can potentially make up a medical?

While transfer medicals can involve different steps depending on the staff conducting them and time availability, most transfer screens include the following. First, injury/risk for injury screening is critical as it can give a lot of insight into a player’s physical abilities as well as their risk for future injury. 

Former physiotherapist of many different premier league teams Dave Fevre had this to say about risk assessment: “The player’s skeletal range of movement – that's joints, key muscles, fitness, and any possible weak spots – will be assessed. I’m especially keen on checking the pelvis as it’s such a key area for both upper and lower-body mobility, strength, and injury prevention. The player’s position will influence the medical too – goalkeepers, for example, will have a check on shoulders, elbows, wrists, and, of course, hands. If anything needs further investigation, we’ll book a scan and get a more thorough assessment.”

The other major portion of a transfer medical consists of various medical tests and screenings. First up is a heart health test that will include cardiac screening, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and a heart health questionnaire. Some clubs may also do blood testing and/or cardiovascular fitness testing, such as a VO2 max test. 

Second, the player undergoes musculoskeletal stability testing. This will allow the physio staff to find possible weak spots in the lumbar spine and hip regions, very common sites of injury in soccer. Many crucial functional movements are also tested such as squatting, jumping, and lunging. 

Third comes isokinetic issues. In this step, tests are performed to discover muscular imbalances among players that could cause them further injury, especially those returning from an injury.  As previously mentioned, if a player has a history of injury, they will receive deeper scanning as their next step to assess these injury-prone players. Penultimately, players will go through a body fat scan. Most professional players are expected to have less than 10% body fat. Finally, players undergo a sprint test to test their speed over a set distance, typically around 20 meters or about 21 yards.

Why would a player fail a medical?

This answer can vary from club to club and player to player. Every club will look into the physical ability of a player they want to bring in and if the player does not prove themself physically then it can be a cause for failure. The other big caveat for failure is if the player is injured or coming off an injury. These can also cause players to fail.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. None of my writing should ever be taken as medical advice.