Berlin (AFP) – Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt’s “magic hands” will work to help Germany try to defend the World Cup in Russia, but the team doctor remains a maverick figure in medical circles.
“Healing Hans”, as he is nicknamed, also works for Bayern Munich and outside football. He is hailed as a medical genius by his legion of high-profile fans in elite sport.
Although his detractors remain dubious of Mueller-Wohlfahrt’s unusual techniques, his former patients are a “who’s who” of sports stars.
Athletics legends Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe and Maurice Greene are some of the big names who overcame career-threatening injuries after being treated in Munich by Mueller-Wohlfahrt.
Bolt was first treated by the German as a 16-year-old.
“I’m so grateful to him,” the Jamaican Bolt after winning the men’s 100m final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “‘Doc’ has long been a second father to me.”
“He got me back on my feet again,” added Bolt after the German doctor helped him with a calf injury before the Rio Games.
Mueller-Wohlfahrt celebrated his 75th birthday last year.
However, he could pass for decades younger given the spritely way he leaps from the bench to treat injured Germany players during football internationals.
Mueller-Wohlfahrt built up his reputation by working with Bayern Munich stars, like Franz Beckenbauer, in the 1970s.
Having treated Germany’s top footballers for the last few decades, he was the team doctor when Germany won the 2014 World Cup.
“What I find particularly impressive is that he makes the correct diagnosis after the very first examination, without needing scans or x-rays,” said Germany head coach Joachim Loew.
“He does it with his hands, which must have some magic in them, his experience and his intuition.”
– ‘Like a pianist’ –
However, Mueller-Wohlfahrt says his techniques rely more on experience than “magic”.
“I ‘see’ with my fingers, I can tell if the muscle is injured just through the tension in it,” he wrote in his autobiography.
“I have diagnosed 35,000 muscle injuries in my life and acquired these abilities through daily exercise, like a pianist or a violinist”.
Mueller-Wohlfahrt’s methods are not to everyone’s taste.
His intensive use of actovegin, an amino acid made from veal blood which he injects into injured tendons, has led to allegations of quackery by senior figures in his field.
“I decided early on in my career to use natural medicine and not chemical agents,” he wrote.
“And for a long time my alternative methods have earned me the rejection of my colleagues.
“In a world of orthopaedics, dominated by surgery and cortisone, they looked at me like a renegade.”
None of Mueller-Wohlfahrt’s work has been analysed by other doctors, nor has he published anything about his use of actovegin.
It led to Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States’ Anti-Doping Agency, branding Mueller-Wohlfahrt’s reliance on injections as a “Frankenstein-type experiment”.
Mueller-Wohlfahrt admits to being an “empirical doctor”, who does not rely on medical research, but on the feedback of his patients.
– Guardiola row –
The science behind his treatments remain a mystery.
“It is kind of a secret,” Munich surgeon Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck told ESPN.
“It must work, but I don’t know how.
“I have never seen a report, an article or anything. Never.”
Mueller-Wohlfahrt blames the lack of scientific research on a lack of time.
“Working with my patients has always been more important,” he says.
He enjoys legendary status at Germany’s top football club Bayern Munich.
However, a public clash with then-head coach Pep Guardiola saw Mueller-Wohlfahrt storm out on the Bavarian giants in 2015.
He only started working again with Bayern this season.
Three years ago, Guardiola blamed Mueller-Wohlfahrt for a Champions League defeat at Porto.
In his memoirs, Mueller-Wohlfahrt devotes an entire chapter on settling the score.
“Guardiola didn’t have any trust in me and my team,” wrote Mueller-Wohlfahrt.
“On one hand, he showed no interest in medical questions, and on the other, he demanded miracles from us.”
The doctor said Guardiola’s training methods, particularly his taste for short warm-ups, exposed players to a higher risk of injury.
Current Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes sees Mueller-Wohlfahrt as a “miracle wizard”.
When Heynckes, 72, returned to coach Bayern in October, Mueller-Wohlfahrt was soon reinstated.
“For me, Dr. Mueller-Wohlfahrt is a genius – he is a master in his discipline, but, more than that, he approaches people with immense empathy,” said Heynckes.