Manager specialist in dealing with injuries

When it comes to bad luck it would seem Kane Ritchie-Hosler has experienced a career’s worth of misfortune all before his 22nd birthday.  Today (Monday) in Glasgow the Dunfermline midfielder was scheduled to be going through his third operation of this season. It has been very difficult for Kane who after a very successful loan period from Rangers last season, signed for Dunfermline Athletic in May 2023.

Last season Kane’s attacking style made him a real fans’ favourite, featuring in 22 matches for the Pars playing a leading role in securing the League One title. Joining Dunfermline on a three year deal seemed to be a great opportunity for Kane and a great bit of business for the football club – a young man coming off the back of a fantastic season, ready to hopefully set his career up again. He came into a place where he knew he is loved by the fans and he had a platform at Dunfermline to go on and develop his career.

Kane played in the pre-season’s opening friendly against St Pauli but an injury in training and surgery to his right ankle delayed his competitive debut this season until 2nd September. Then another injury in training saw him damage his right knee and another operation was needed on that. 

Returned to the first team against Dundee United last month it seemed Kane had all his woes behind him but in his fourth game back, he dislocated his shoulder in the match against Arbroath and more surgery was required. 

James McPake has faced a unique challenge with Kane Ritchie-Hosler’s injury, prompting him to reflect on the unprecedented nature of the situation.

James, no stranger to career-threatening injuries himself, expressed the rarity of Ritchie-Hosler’s predicament, stating, “I’ve not seen it before. I’ve had serious injuries in my career – but I’ve never had anything like this. It’s been ankle, knee, shoulder all on three different occasions – after he had done the rehab. This goes over anything I’ve experienced injury-wise.”

The manager drew upon his own experiences to emphasise the mental toll such injuries can take. Reflecting on his own knee injury, McPake highlighted the importance of having a clear rehabilitation plan and a defined timeline. However, with Ritchie-Hosler’s injury, the lack of a similar reference point posed a unique challenge.

“I know I’ve been out for longer than Kane has, but you’re in a programme then, you know what’s happening, you’re never just always trying to get back in six, eight, 12 weeks.  With my knee I knew I was going to be a year. You’re gutted at the start but right away you get the surgery and you’re counting the months down and you’ve got a goal.”

The absence of a comparable case in McPake’s career or among his contacts made it difficult to offer guidance or assurance to the young player.

“I feel so bad for him, for that. Normally with injuries I can speak to them and say, ‘I’ve experienced what you’re going through’ but I’ve not with Kane. I don’t know anybody else who has.  I had a player who I put on to Robert Snodgrass, who had a knee injury as well before mine, and I got them to speak to him, because he had a really bad knee injury at Hull.

“Is there anybody out there who you can phone? If it’s a cruciate or anything, then yes you can. You can get on the phone to them and speak to physios. Even physios I’ve spoken to have said they’ve never seen anything like this, in terms of how you deal with it.”

Recognising that the psychological toll can often be more challenging than the physical rehabilitation, James drew parallels between injuries and life’s broader challenges, emphasising the importance of providing support to players facing such adversity:-

“Myself and Dave had a chat with him and I think it’s really important for him that he takes the time, and doesn’t rush back. That’s not to say we don’t want him. We’d love to have him back bang on whatever the surgeon says but I think we need to balance this one up. It’s the well-being and the mental side of the injury, because I think the worst part of injuries is the mental side.

“Again, you need to put it into context, because there’s a lot of people out there dying of cancer and terrible illnesses, there’s wars going on but talking about Kane and what we’re dealing with, in the circumstances, for him it’s an absolute nightmare.”

While discussing recurring injuries, James mentioned the case of Darren McGregor, who faced setbacks with a cruciate injury. The manager noted that, in such situations, blame might be assigned to surgeons, medical staff, or even the player’s own decisions. However, in Ritchie-Hosler’s case, the three distinct injuries added an extra layer of complexity.

“With this one, it’s three innocuous ones. If it’s recurring you’re blaming the surgeon, you’re blaming the medical department, you’re blaming yourself, did we bring him back too early?  But the rehab has been spot on. Kane will tell you that himself; the physios have been great with him, the club doctor has been great, the surgeons he’s seen have been fantastic. And then he ends up with a shoulder injury!”

The manager also acknowledged the support network surrounding the player, including family and the football club:-

“When we spoke to Kane, he was good. I’m not a psychologist where I can sit and look into him deeply.  But, in terms of how he came across to us, he was bubbly, he was good, joking and looking forward to his time at Christmas. He was in checking what time he would get off after his surgery.  We told him to take as long as he wants.  It’s now important he takes the time with his family, and they’re a great family as well; we’ve met them and spoken to them.  They’ll look after him and so will the football club.”

As a manager who has personally endured significant injuries, McPake sees a silver lining in his ability to relate to players undergoing rehabilitation. He believes that his experiences contribute to a deeper understanding of the emotional and physical challenges faced by injured players, ultimately making him more equipped to guide them through the recovery process.

“I can understand because I’ve been in that position, and so have loads of players and managers. You just know how hard it is to go through and I do think it’s a benefit to me as a manager that I’ve gone through it. That might sound daft and some people might say that tactically I’m rubbish, but I’m good at dealing with injuries!”

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