“Roger Federer is more than a patient. He's been a good friend.”
For the past 12 years, Dr George John has been in a very privileged position. After building a reputation as one of the finest in his field, the Dubai-based surgeon has found himself privy to the aches and pains of the globe’s sporting glitterati.
Elite athletes from football, tennis and the wider sporting world have sought Dr George’s advice and he has diagnosed, operated on and rehabilitated people at the pinnacle of their profession – achieving things in his career that most aspiring sports doctors could only dream of.
After completing a Masters in Sports Medicine at the University of Nottingham in the UK, Dr George was snapped up by Manchester United, where a big break (in the literal sense) proved to be the making of him
On April 28, 2006, a nation drew its breath as a challenge from Chelsea’s Tiago left United and England star Wayne Rooney writhing in agony on the Stamford Bridge turf. His fourth metatarsal was broken and his hopes of playing at the upcoming World Cup in Germany seemed dashed.
Dr George, however, had other ideas. With time of the essence ahead of the tournament, surgery was ruled out and a strict regime of rest and rehab drawn up. Remarkably Rooney made it to Germany, though his World Cup ended in ignominy as he stamped his non-fractured foot into Ricardo Carvalho’s groin – receiving a red card as England went crashing out on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals.
“We emphasised to Wayne not to overuse his body in order to recover better,” Dr George recalls to Sport360. “Once his injury was healing, and once he went back running, he soon gained confidence again. Wayne builds positive things around him and he was a great guy to work with. He was nice, focused, committed and took things really seriously.”
While Rooney’s recovery represents an impressive badge of honour, Dr George’s list of famous patients certainly doesn’t end there. After all, the Indian-born surgeon has been medic to the messiah.
“I was treating Diego Maradona in his bedroom for a back injury only a few months ago,” says Dr George. “He was lying down for 24 hours but the moment I did the treatment, he moved and he started kicking the ball with me in the bedroom. A guy like that, he is a legend and young at heart.”
Away from football, Dr George has been resident tournament doctor at a number of the UAE's high-profile sporting events including the Dubai Desert Classic golf and the Dubai Rugby Sevens. For six years he also worked at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, during which time he treated, among others, Roger Federer (wrist and back), Novak Djokovic (back and knee), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (shoulder), Serena Williams (knee) and Tomas Berdych (hamstring).
Of the many tennis aces he’s dealt with, it is Federer and Djokovic who stand out as preferred patients, with the latter even memorably jumping on Dr George’s back when celebrating his 2011 Dubai crown.
“Novak is always a fun and loving guy,” says Dr George. “He'd mimic everyone in the ground. He’s incredibly motivated and has a steady and focused approach to his profession.
“Then there’s Roger Federer: he is more than a patient, he’s been a good friend. He’s a gentleman, a fantastic person and very genuine to deal with. To spend time with him you see a very positive person who speaks very positively. I love him as a player and a patient. Hopefully he can win one more Grand Slam.”
It is not only elite sportsmen who can reap the rewards of Dr George’s experience, with his Transform Medical and Fitness Centre on Al Wasl Road offering state-of-the-art facilities to the residents of Dubai and many who travel to the UAE specifically to see the surgeon.
“We’re trying to practice more of a preventative medicine with these people,” Dr George explains. “We believe a lot in exercise and less loading on body parts, otherwise there could be overuse issues. We try to say you need good condition of your body.
“Of course, in sport you can have collisions so there is no guarantee. In contact games, hamstring strains are common. It can take three months or three weeks off your time. You can diagnose it correctly and give the treatment from the time it happens. For tennis, mainly shoulder, back and ankle problems are the most common.
DR. GEORGE JOHN, Specialist Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon, Dubai,UAE; to book an appointment call;+971501414001 pic.twitter.com/207dAm47Bq
— emad8 (@EmadAghedi) June 7, 2015
“The worst injury I’ve seen is when someone does four ligaments in the knee and it’s completely dislocated. It is a nasty one.”
Never one to shy away from a new challenge, Dr George has recently taken the step into football club ownership, investing in new Indian Super League side NorthEast United with business partner and Bollywood actor John Abraham.
The ISL is only a year old but with over 420 million tuning into the first season, it was immediately the fourth-watched league in the world. As a football fan at heart, Dr George is delighted to see the development of the game in India and is hoping that it will continue to grow.
“It’s been a great year for the league. Before this year, we were known as a cricket country and last year we felt football was up and coming, and we said we had to have something to facilitate this development,” explains Dr George.
“Apart from that, we have famous figures coming to play in the league which helps to generate interest. Some days we see 85,000 watching our games. We were surprised, as we always thought it would just be for cricket to draw these numbers, but we changed that and for the fans to show their love; it’s a great start for us.
“This is an opportunity for youngsters to come into the game. The domestic players have a great chance to play with the international players, and this put confidence into the young players.”
It may be a while yet before an ISL player lines up alongside Rooney and Co. in the Premier League; in the meantime, it is a successful surgeon who is flying the flag as one of India’s most impressive sporting exports.
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