“When I return, I will be on fire”
December 16, 2020
By J. Schuetz
Mayssa Pessoa, the Brazilian goalkeeper of Rostov-Don, is one of the many top handball players currently sidelined because of a severe knee injury. Back in August of this year, she tore her cruciate ligaments, while playing football during the warm-up phase of a practice session.
While Covid-19 is on everybody’s mind severe injuries have increased significantly. Actually, a few of the pundits see the virus as the root cause for all the damage.
As the world sunk into lockdown in the spring of 2020, handball federations and league officials decided to cut their season short and players were asked to stay fit at home, not being able to participate in any specific handball training for the next few months.
Treatment in Brazil
Mayssa Pessoa decided to treat her injury and begin the rehabilitation process in her home country. How is she doing, right now?
“After my surgery, I decided to continue my recovery in Brazil. I am doing very intensive therapy – I am working with two therapists. Right now, my knee is getting better and I plan to be back in February. Of course, not on the court but to begin the next phase with some special training.
“I really would like to bring back (to Russia ed.) one my therapists as well, as I have worked with them from the beginning. Once I am back in Russia, I don’t want to change, but continue with the same people I am currently comfortable with.”
How does her club (Rostov-Don) feel about the plans of Mayssa Pessoa going forward?
“Let’s face it – clubs need their players, especially when they earn a high salary. But, when players injure themselves they suffer because clubs sometimes don’t respect them. Sometimes they won’t pay you anymore or they don’t care how your therapy is coming along or they push you to be back in six months or faster.
“But, I feel fine that all will be OK (in Rostov ed.). Since 2012, I am represented by one of the best manager’s in handball. I told him that I didn’t want to go to Germany or Spain for surgery and my therapy with all the uncertainties relating to the Covid pandemic. Brazil is where I wanted to go – to be together with the people I trust.
“So, I came here to Sao Paulo to get it all done. It’s not about coming to Brazil to stay with my family. My family lives very far away and my mother cannot fly because of problems with her knees. I only saw my sister a few times as she works here in a hospital.
“In Sao Paulo – I am strictly here for my therapy and to get back in shape. I live very close to the clinic.
First serious injury
Never before in her long career as a professional handball player, did Mayssa Pessoa sustain a long term injury. She had different expectations and never thought of hurting herself in a serious manner.
“Yes – I have never been in this situation before, where I had to stay off the pitch for such a long time. I have suffered injuries before, but I always recovered very fast and was back on the field. This is the first time I am hurt in a big way in my career. Still, I didn’t take it in negative way.
“I am 36 years old and I did expect my body to get tired after all these years playing at the highest level, in the Champions League and all the traveling. However, I did not foresee getting injured.”
Challenges in Russia
Life in Russia is another factor that the Brazilian international takes into account, as the geography of the country presents challenges of a different kind.
“Life in Russia is not easy, it’s very difficult. Players come here and after one month they realize what’s involved, including the enormous distances in the country and all the flying. Very often, we are one week away from home. Other teams in Europe don’t experience this.
“For the three years I am in Rostov, I have been pushing myself very hard.
The impact of Covid-19
“But, I also feel that the Covid pandemic contributed to my injury. We had to train at home and I lost my condition…
“Let’s be clear – it’s not the same when you practice at home instead of being together with your team in a gym and on the court. You’re just not in the same shape and not as strong.
“One day before a match for the Russian Cup, I felt very tired and I told Ambros (Ambros Martin, then head coach of Rostov-Don ed.). He said ‘OK – let’s warm up and then you stay on the sidelines – I want you to rest and be ready for the Cup game’.
“And, then I injured myself playing football, not even playing handball. My knee gave in – I did not even feel pain. Still, I knew that my ligaments were torn.
“Then, the whole process began – taking X-rays to make sure that I just tore my ligaments, talking to the local doctors and so on and so forth.
“It’s a big motivation for me to be better than before”
“Rostov was very supportive when I decided to go to Brazil for my surgery and recovery. They said that if I feel confident about it I should go.
“In fact, Jessica Quintino (Odense HB ed.) and Eduarda Amorim (Gyoer AUDI ETO ed.) went to the same clinic to get their therapy after their knee injuries. Surgery is, of course, very important but the most important part is the therapy. Many players rush back to the court too quickly and as a result injure themselves again.
“You can’t run before you walk. That’s what’s emphasized here in Brazil – stretching and bending – so you get the full motion back in your knee. In Europe, generally speaking, there is a focus to regain strength and put power on the knee, when you still don’t have the full flexibility in the knee. That’s a bad approach, in my opinion.
“I did learn a lot during this time and I watched an interview with Christina Neagu, where she talked about her knee injury. In short, I don’t trust how they go about therapy in Europe.
“When I talked to Quintino and Amorim, they both confirmed that they did not feel their knee again after the rehabilitation process, in the clinic, in Sao Paulo.
“They hurt themselves in 2013 and 2014 and they have performed at the highest level since then. So, I said, I want to got o the same clinic, where they went to.
“I am grateful for the club that they don’t push me. They told me: ‘Mayssa take your time and when you’re ready, you come back.’
“I am in the last years of playing handball and I want to finish on a high note and not fuck up my career because I returned after six months.
“At this point, I plan to return to training in February, but I won’t have my first game before April or even May.
“When I return, I will be on fire. It’s a big motivation for me to be better than before.”
A cramped calendar will get even tighter in 2021…
Given the postponement of so many games in the various leagues, organizers will be tempted to cramp as many matches as possible, into an already crowded calendar. Extending regular season play into June increasingly looks like reality. How does Mayssa Pessoa foresee the schedule going forward?
“True – it’s a very difficult situation. Now, they play the EURO championship and I certainly don’t think they will be able to finish the season before June. Maybe they will have to cut it short again? Right now, we don’t know.
“I expect a low level of handball”
Talking about the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, currently underway in Denmark after Norway declined to co-host the event, what are the expectations of Mayssa Pessoa?
“Judging by what I have seen in the Champions League – of course, I do watch my team (Rostov ed.) – I expect a low level of handball. How can it be otherwise given the pandemic?
“Some players get infected, have to stay at home, come back without proper training, play a game, face another quarantine period, stay home again, and so on and so forth.
“So, I foresee a very low level of handball at EURO 2020 and I do hope that we won’t see too many injured players.
“The pandemic aside, there are so many players, who are currently harmed. It’s just one more reason, why it (EURO 2020 ed.) can’t be at a high level if you think about it.”