Ipswich Town’s director of performance Andy Rolls has worked for Chelsea, Watford, West Ham, Arsenal and Bristol City. STUART WATSON sat down to discuss his career and Portman Road role.

Andy Rolls has rubbed shoulders with many of football’s modern day icons over the last 20 years.

The former Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal physio has got a Premier League title, three FA Cups and a League Cup on his CV.

That was never the plan though.

“No-one believes me when I say getting into the game wasn’t my intention,” says the 48-year-old, as we sit down to reflect on his journey to Portman Road.

“My drive was to make a real difference.

“I really wanted to do something like rehabilitating children after heart and liver transplants.

“I did some work in Philadelphia for a bit and then went to work in at Hammersmith Hospital in London.

“It was during that time that I met someone called Huw Billington, who was an A&E consultant but also the Chelsea club doctor. People won’t believe this but in those days, this is probably 25 years ago, the Chelsea doctor only went in on a Tuesday and Thursday morning.

“Academies were just starting then and he said to me ‘we need someone to do Tuesday and Thursday nights, do you fancy it?’ It was a little bit of extra cash, so I said yes. My work in football started from there.”

Rolls started off working at Chelsea part-time, also doing some evening work with the International Ballet School. Eventually he was offered a full-time role. Then, in 2002, he was promoted to first team physio.

East Anglian Daily Times: Andy Rolls worked alongside Jose Mourinho during his first spell as Chelsea manager.Andy Rolls worked alongside Jose Mourinho during his first spell as Chelsea manager. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“I had two years with Claudio Ranieri and then Mr Mourinho came in. That was in the period when Roman Abramovic took over,” he explains.

“I was a young lad then, in my 20s, and saw some massive changes.

“Back then it was just me working alongside one other physio and two masseurs. There were no sports scientists. We rented a training ground from Imperial College and the facilities were terrible.

“We went from having a small, largely English squad, with players like Wisey (Dennis Wise) and Graham Le Saux, to all this investment and players like Adrian Mutu, (Juan Sebastian) Veron, (Hernan) Crespo and (Claude) Makelele all coming in as part of a massive squad.

“Claudio Ranieri (who couldn’t speak much English at the time) was hard to deal with because you couldn’t have a chat or discussion with him.

“Mourinho just wouldn’t talk to players if they were injured. Arjen Robben broke three bones in his foot and got completely ignored for three months!

East Anglian Daily Times: Claudio Ranieri (centre) splashed Roman Abramovich's cash to sign the likes of Joe Cole and Juan Sebastian Veron.Claudio Ranieri (centre) splashed Roman Abramovich's cash to sign the likes of Joe Cole and Juan Sebastian Veron. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“Mick McGivern (John Lyall’s former assistant at Ipswich) was the reserve team manager. He was a lovely fella who I learnt loads from, but if you got something wrong he’d have no qualms in telling you in front of everyone!

“It was a really big transitional period and, looking back, we couldn’t really cope. It was a great grounding for me though.

“As happens in football, the doctor got the sack and it was just time to move on.”

In 2005, Rolls, fresh from Chelsea winning the Premier League and League Cup under the self-titled ‘Special One’, joined Watford. It was the beginning of an enduring relationship with Mark Ashton, who was just starting out as an ambitious young chief executive at Vicarage Road.

“We were the favourites to get relegated out of the Championship and Aidy Boothroyd got us promoted,” recalls Rolls.

East Anglian Daily Times: Andy Rolls was at Watford when Aidy Boothroyd led the Hornets to the Premier League.Andy Rolls was at Watford when Aidy Boothroyd led the Hornets to the Premier League. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“The following year we got to the FA Cup semi-finals. That was a great period, but then the wheels started to fall off, the club started to change and I got out at the right time.”

Next stop West Ham, as Rolls was reunited with Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke at Upton Park in 2009.

The Hammers were relegated in 2010/11 but were promoted at the first time of asking.

“My role there, as head of sports science and medicine, was a lot broader,” he explains.

“Eventually, the continual hassle of that job made me want to go back to being a physiotherapist.

East Anglian Daily Times: Sam Allardyce was among the West Ham managers that Andy Rolls worked with.Sam Allardyce was among the West Ham managers that Andy Rolls worked with. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“Sam Allardyce could be difficult in that he didn’t care what happened Monday to Thursday, but come Friday wanted everyone training.

"I was the run-on physio at Wembley for the Play-Off Final. That was fantastic, because the previous big games had all been in Cardiff.”

Quizzed on the role of run-on physio, Rolls said: “There is a little knack to it. It’s about doing your job properly but no-one noticing.

“I remember going on the pitch when West Ham were getting smashed at Stoke and one of our players, I can’t remember who, stayed down after a foul. I came on and he whispered ‘has he been sent off yet?’ I told him no, so he stayed down for a bit longer until the referee decided to show the red card! So there is a little bit of gamesmanship that goes on.

“You get a few words off the manager for being too quick or too slow sometimes. You just have to try and not take it personally.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Jack Collison (left) and Kieron Dyer (right) were two players often in the treatment room at West Ham.Jack Collison (left) and Kieron Dyer (right) were two players often in the treatment room at West Ham. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

Injury-hit Kieron Dyer was someone Rolls worked with a lot at that West Ham. Another was Jack Collison.

“I’ve got a picture up in my office at home of Jack celebrating a goal that put us 1-0 up at Arsenal on a freezing cold night,” he says.

“He came over and cuddled me as way of thanks for my work with him. We went on to lose 5-1, but it was a big moment for Jack and he sent me the picture with a nice note.

“He’s a smashing kid and he deserved more luck with injuries.”

Rolls’ remit at Arsenal, who he joined in 2013, was a lot narrower.

“I was assigned a group of six players who I got to know really well,” he says.

“Jack Wilshere I spent a lot of time with. He trained most days, but had a really nasty patella tendon problem.

“Laurent Koscielny was another. We put a lot of work into his Achilles management, then he ruptured it and missed the World Cup. That was so tough for him.

East Anglian Daily Times: Arsene Wenger celebrates Arsenal's FA Cup Final win against Hull in 2014.Arsene Wenger celebrates Arsenal's FA Cup Final win against Hull in 2014. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“Working with Arsene Wenger was brilliant. I treated him a few times for some ailments because he’s not a young man anymore!

“I never talked football with him at all, because everyone wants to talk football with him. His daughter was training to be a vet and my wife is an animal physio, so we often used to chat about that. He loves rugby, so we’d talk about that too.

“We won three FA Cups during that period. I’ll always remember the relief on his face after the first one (in 2013) because he was under a bit of pressure going into that final, having not won anything for nine years. I was so pleased for him because as a fella he was smashing.

“I had a great four years there and then Colin Lewin, my boss, got the sack and once again I decided it was time to move on.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town have named Andy Rolls as their director of performance. Picture: ITFCIpswich Town have named Andy Rolls as their director of performance. Picture: ITFC (Image: ITFC)

That’s when Ashton picked up the phone.

“At Watford I didn’t have much dealings with him to be honest,” says Rolls.

“I reported to Aidy and Aidy reported to the board. It was a very different management line.

“We’d had our fall outs – there was one over Marlon King’s knee – but we kept in touch a bit.

“Then he called to ask if I could recommend someone to do a role for him at Bristol City. I said ‘I’ll do it for you if you like’. That’s how we reunited."

After helping Bristol City navigate the pandemic period, Rolls got another call from Ashton last summer. Would he like a job at Ipswich?

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town's director of performance director Andy Rolls (right) says planning pre-season has been tricky due to world events.Ipswich Town's director of performance director Andy Rolls (right) says planning pre-season has been tricky due to world events. (Image: Pagepix Ltd 07976 935738)

“I couldn’t say no to an exciting project like this,” says Town’s director of performance (more on that role to come).

Asked if there are days he misses being a physio, Rolls adds: “Some days, though my wife says I got bored at Arsenal just looking after a few injured players and that I need this hassle!”

Is there a chance he finishes career helping those sick children, as was the original plan?

“I’m not sure I could,” he admits. “I’ve not worked in a hospital for a long, long time now. I’d have to upskill drastically to go back into that because I would imagine it’s moved on a lot.

“Looking back, I probably couldn’t have done the rehabilitation work for 20-odd years. It would have ground me down.

“I’d like to stay at Ipswich for a long time now and make sure we’re successful and we achieve what we want to achieve.”

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East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town director of performance Andy RollsIpswich Town director of performance Andy Rolls (Image: ITFC)

Spot Andy Rolls and, chances are, he’ll be holding a clipboard.

“I’m an obsessive planner, much to my staff’s annoyance. It must drive them mad!” he laughs.

“I like things to be very structured with lots of objective measures.

“As a physio, when those plans are followed through and players return to play it is a really good feeling.”

Those organisational skills are now being used in a role much broader than just physiotherapy.

As Ipswich Town’s director of performance, Rolls oversees a wide range of duties.

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna, pictured on the first day of pre-season training.Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna, pictured on the first day of pre-season training. (Image: ITFC/Matchday Images)

“I’ve got two or three roles really,” he explains.

“One, to take away as much rubbish from Kieran (McKenna) as I can. When are we travelling? What are we doing that day? When are we having a day off? I present to him, he can yes or no to it, we have a discussion and come up with a plan.

“My other area is to make sure that the medical, sports science and psychology side of performance runs as smoothly as possible. We’ve had a little reshuffle of staff on that side of things this summer.

“My other area is the link between the training ground and the stadium. I’ve got a relationship with Mark Ashton at Portman Road, a relationship with Kieran here (at Playford Road) and I can link the two.

“Kieran might come to me with some requests for better pitches or technology then I look into that and present to Mark. Luke Werhun (chief operating officer) might get involved too. It depends what it is.”

So how did Rolls transition from physiotherapist to this more senior position?

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town assistant manager Martyn Pert is helping to design the club's new recruitment department.Ipswich Town assistant manager Martyn Pert is helping to design the club's new recruitment department. (Image: PAGEPIX LTD 07976935738)

“I first did it a little bit of this organisational stuff at Watford alongside (Ipswich assistant manager) Martyn Pert. He was head of sports science and I was head of medicine. We did that director of performance role for Aidy (Boothroyd) together.

“There was a bit more of that for me at West Ham and then the first time I officially did it was at Bristol City. It’s been a gradual process taking on more.”

Asked for an idea of his average working day, Rolls explains: “I come in at half seven. Myself, Andy Costin (head of sports science), Matt (Byard, head of medicine) and Ivan (Mukandi, head of strength and conditioning) all sit down and put a sheet together of players available for training to give the manager at quarter past eight.

“Once that meeting with the manager happens those numbers can’t really change. If a player wakes up with a stiff back or feeling ill, they need to notify us early.

“In that meeting with the manager we discuss which players might need a bit more, who might need a bit less.

“The players have to sign in and fill out a questionnaire on the front desk when they first come in. How well did they sleep? How do they feel? Any soreness? That all comes up on the telly in my office.

“Woolfy (Luke Woolfenden), for example, might flag up that he’s got a sore back. So after training I’ll go and see how he is, see if he needs any work and make sure that happens.

“I cover most of training from a physio, first aid side of things to enable Matt to get on with his proper job.

“There’s a few more meetings after training and then, come four o’clock, everyone goes home and I can actually sit at my desk and do a couple of hours work without people bothering me!”

Organising the team’s travel arrangements for away days is one big task.

“Where we are based is an amazing part of the country, but the only game you can travel to on the day is Cambridge – and that’s still an hour down the road,” says Rolls.

“We tried under Paul Cook to go to places like Plymouth and Accrington, the real long ones, on the Thursday and stay two nights.

“I thought it was a really good idea, but the majority of the players hated it. We did it two or three times and didn’t win any of them.

“So then we tried to travel early on the Friday for a bit with mixed fortunes. Now we leave a bit later under Kieran.

“We’ve been leaving on a Friday around 12.30/1 and have sailed through every journey. He thinks I’m making it up when I say we should leave early, but he’s just the luckiest man ever!

“Everyone always says ‘what about the train?’ But it’s a two-hour drive to Milton Keynes, it’s a train down to London and then another train out of London. By the time you’ve done all that you may as well have just jumped on a coach.

“I think the players are quite accepting of it. It is what it is. They don’t moan. We now take the chef away with us and he does really good food on the way back.

“There are 20-odd players, 20-odd staff and they're never all going to be happy.

“We just need to get promoted and then we might get a few flights!”

Rolls continued: “We’ve just had the fixtures come out, so we’re talking to the EFL about trying to change a few.

“I’m going to present to the manager this afternoon my suggestions as to which games we should ask to change.

“It might be to give us a bit more rest after a certain fixture, to miss some planned roadworks, or to make sure we don’t clash with an England fixture.

“That then goes to Stuart Hayton (club secretary) and Luke Werhun and they take it to the EFL.”

Town are currently away on a week-long training camp at Loughborough University. It’s part of a pre-season programme which involves games against a variety of opponents.

“I think Kieran is a bit disappointed we’re not going away anywhere (a trip to Austria was his preferred option), but, in the current world we’re in, staying in the UK feels the right thing to do.

East Anglian Daily Times: Andy Rolls (right), pictured with Scott Parker during their West Ham days.Andy Rolls (right), pictured with Scott Parker during their West Ham days. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

“A couple of friends of mine at other clubs have reported back about real logistical problems when going abroad, things like getting vans of equipment and water across the channel.

“And you always waste a day with travel. I think with Kieran trying to get his ideas across, every day counts. Kieran, Martyn Pert and Charlie (Turnbull) all went to university at Loughborough, so they know it well.

“We’ve got a team bonding exercise lined up for the lads which they don’t know about yet. We’ll all go out for dinner one night. It will be good to get everyone together.”

The conversation turns back to Rolls’ work with the medical department and the subject of injured players.

“Everyone is always obsessed with timescales,” he says.

“Managers come off the pitch and say ‘how long’s he going to be?’ It’s like ‘I’ve barely looked at it yet!’

“I try my best not to give timescales. I will say to Mark Ashton and the manager ‘we think it’s this long, but he has to overcome a lot of hurdles before he’s back’.

“To deflect from the timescale I try and talk about the objective measures they need to hit. I say ‘before he’s back he needs to tick off this total distance, this amount of high speed running and these markers in the gym’. It’s about trying to shift that thinking.

“What then happens in response to that, especially in a transfer window, is Mark or the manager will say ‘I get all that, but how long’s he going to be?’ And you end up saying ‘I think it’s going to be around six weeks’.

“So you always end up getting sucked into a timeframe, but I try my best not to.”

East Anglian Daily Times: West Ham's Frederic Piquionne (left) receives attention from Andy Rolls.West Ham's Frederic Piquionne (left) receives attention from Andy Rolls. (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

Rolls smiles when asked if his approach was to under-promise and over-deliver when it came to those comeback timescales.

“Mark Ashton and Kieran would definitely say we do that!” he says.

“I just try and be honest. But if it’s a four to six week estimation, then I will still probably say six!

“Kieran and Mark have both been in football a long time though and know if we say six weeks then it could easily be seven.

“One thing I would say is that we used to get players fit to train and then they’d get fit to play in training and with the reserves/Under-23s.

“Now the pressure is so great on managers that as soon as someone is declared fit then they’re seen as fit to play. That does make us do more with them in rehab because as soon as we hand them back over then you’ve lost control.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Adam Webster was named Bristol City's Player of the Year. Photo: PAAdam Webster was named Bristol City's Player of the Year. Photo: PA (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

Ipswich Town have had their fair share of injuries over recent years.

David McGoldrick and Adam Webster were always breaking down at Portman Road, but managed to stay fit after leaving (Rolls being part of the medical team that made Webster more robust at Bristol City).

Teddy Bishop, Emyr Huws, Jon Nolan, Kane Vincent-Young and James Norwood are all players that have had constant set-backs.

“Sometimes good calls are made and then things happen outside of your control,” said Rolls.

“One player went to London to see the best ankle surgeon in the country, they made a decision and it was proven six months later to be the wrong decision.

“It’s difficult in medicine. It’s a bit like being a football manager – everyone thinks they can do better.

“All you can do is not crow too much when things are going well and not get too down when they’re not.

East Anglian Daily Times: Lee Evans has missed the last three games with a groin injury.Lee Evans has missed the last three games with a groin injury. (Image: © Copyright Stephen Waller)

“We had a great year last year injury-wise when you look at the numbers. But Lee Evans missed the last four months with a knee ligament injury and that probably didn’t go as smoothly as we wanted it to.

“There’s always things we can improve on.

“We’ll just quietly get on with what we’re doing and let other people decide if we’re doing it okay or not.”

Having spent all of his career working at Premier League and Championship clubs, Rolls was asked how working at Ipswich Town in League One compares.

“I think some of it is about mentality,” he said.

“When you work at the top, top end the athletes have a real winning mentality.

“This is a smashing club full of good people, but we have to win football matches. We have to understand as staff and players that is our primary aim.

“All the other stuff – community involvement, open training, engagement – is massively important in creating what we want to create.

“But no-one cares about all that if we’re not successful.”