Schwarzer: 'They should make Hamburg drive over for the second leg'

As Fulham head to Germany by road, and Liverpool take a train to Spain, Glenn Moore asks if they are losing a competitive edge

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:48

It was the invention of the jet airliner which enabled European competition to get off the ground a half-century ago. Many Fulham and Liverpool players will this week feel that only the inventions of the PlayStation Portable, iPod and the pocket-sized DVD player make the concept bearable when the airliners are grounded.

Fulham's epic Europa League campaign began in July, has involved 16 matches to date, and featured ties against teams from seven countries. They will nevertheless be covering new ground this week, around 600 miles of it, to play Hamburg in tomorrow's semi-final. That, however, is but a short hop compared to the odyssey Liverpool embarked upon yesterday ahead of their tie against Atletico Madrid.

Departing from Runcorn, where they were mobbed at the railway station, Liverpool yesterday travelled by rail to Paris. This morning they catch another train to Bordeaux before flying to the Spanish capital. They will train tonight, play tomorrow, then, if England's airports remain closed, must make the journey in reverse ahead of Sunday's Premier League match at Burnley.

Valuable as the players' gadgetry will be in keeping minds occupied, it is their bodies that are their managers' main concern. The danger is that such prolonged travel will cause stiffness leading to muscle strains. Clive Lathey, registered osteopath and MSc (sports medicine), a consultant to Liverpool based at the Putney Clinic, has advised on planning for the trip.

"It's not ideal," he said. "Travelling is draining, mentally and physically. It's boring, and it's not good for the physiology, blood flow and so on. The knee and hip joints are in a fixed position and stiffen up, which can shorten the muscles. The lower back stiffens which increases disc pressure. Hydration and diet can suffer.

"When they stop they will need to limber up and do a lot more stretching and mobility exercises than if they had gone by air. But the train is better than a coach, at least they can walk around."

In the circumstances it might have been thought that Liverpool's squad would have walked the half-mile between railway termini from Euston to St Pancras yesterday, but instead a coach was laid on.

Fulham, who face 12 hours' coach travel, broken up by a trip under the English Channel on Eurotunnel, and an overnight stay near the Dutch-German border, trained yesterday morning in London and will do so again this evening in Hamburg. They will stay in Germany after the match, before making a return journey that concludes at Everton on Sunday afternoon.

For goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, no stranger to long trips given his international duty with Australia, the issue is even-handedness. "It's not particularly fair if the ban on flights is lifted and Hamburg just fly across next week," he said. "Uefa should have an arrangement whereby they should be made to take the same path that we've had to; but I'm 95 per cent sure that it won't happen." It could be worse. Fulham's travels this season have taken them to Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania.

Ex-players, and the general public, may have limited sympathy for the players' privitations and manager Rafael Benitez recalled travelling "12 to 14 hours" by coach in his playing days in Spain's lower leagues, though he added: "Now you expect something more comfortable." Lucas, Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder, is also able to draw on past experience. "When I was younger, I played for Gremio in Porto Alegre. My home town was 1300km [800 miles] away in Dourados and I used to go back by coach quite a lot on holiday. That was 24 hours, sometimes more. Even now, when I go to Brazil it takes 24 hours to get there. You just have to relax."

Of the trip to Madrid he said: "It will not be easy but we will have plenty of movies, PSP, books, whatever, and a lot of things to talk about, so we have to enjoy it. We cannot complain because it is the only option. We have to accept it and not think too much about the trip."

All managers know that, if they give players an excuse for failure, some will take it. Benitez, while noting "it could be better to postpone the game," insisted "it will not be a problem."

One man who may be following the teams' progress with interest is Dennis Bergkamp. The former Arsenal striker, now living back in the Netherlands, refused to fly. For domestic matches, such as Sunderland or Newcastle away, he would usually travel by train. Occasionally he played on continental Europe for Arsenal, travelling by car and train as far as Sweden. The last trip was to Paris for the 2006 Champions League final. He was an unused substitute as they lost. This week's adventurers will hope for better fortune.

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