It won't be long now before Real Madrid return to pre-season training. This is scheduled to resume during the week beginning the 6th of July if reports are accurate; and then it's off on tour to Australia and China a week later. There's not going to be much time to set basic fitness markers before the squad jet off to play three matches as part of a whirlwind tour.
The time between actually starting the pre-season preparations and kicking off the season proper on the weekend of August 15th / 16th will no doubt fly past. There's not going to be much of a chance for the players to catch their breath - and not only in a physical sense either; the distances involved in travelling from Spain to the other side of the world can also take their toll mentally unless the schedules are properly managed.
We've known for a while that the first official game of the tour will be against Roma in Melbourne on the 18th of July; followed by Manchester City a week later on the 24th. From a fitness aspect, rest and recovery between those two games shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the Madrid squad.
The real disruption is likely to occur when the squad are due to leave Melbourne to fly to China after the City game. A flight averaging between eleven and twelve hours isn't going to do them any favours considering that there's only three days in between facing City and lining up against Inter Milan in the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on the 27th.
Crossing international time zones is never easy and jet lag really hits hard. Like "runner's knee", the term "jet-lag" refers to a combination of symptoms experienced by travellers crossing different time zones, and usually presents as extreme tiredness, light-headedness, disorientation and loss of energy; essentially the symptoms of fatigue.
Symptoms can and will vary between individual players; and not to mention the coaching and fitness teams! These can also show in other ways such as sleep disturbances, loss of concentration, and a tendency to become generally irritable.
Although most of the current Madrid squad are experienced travellers, they're still going to have to face the same effects as the rest of us when it comes to making long-haul flights. It's going to take a couple of days to acclimatise to being in Australia in the first place; but once they've been there for a short while then the worst of the journey should be out of their system.
By the time they've played Roma they'll be able to get on with some serious training since there will be the best part of a week between that and the Manchester City game. Having to fly to China for the final match against Inter Milan within such a short space of time after the City match is where the real difficulties are likely to be encountered.
From a practical aspect it's advised that to minimise the effects of jet-lag everyone should attempt to adjust to the different time zones as quickly as possible, and even to switch their watches to Australian time as soon as possible on the outward journey. Although bearing in the mind the effects on the body that the symptoms of jet-lag can have can be both physical and mental, there needs to be a reasonable period of adjustment allowed to compensate for this.
Disorientation and fatigue on arrival in Australia can potentially take a few days to pass and co-ordination is likely to be affected during the early part of the stay. The training isn't going to be as effective if everyone is tired and that's when the fitness team will need to leave the ‘sharpening-up' sessions until the players have become more acclimatised.
Acclimatisation is always something that needs to be considered when planning for tours like this one. Because Melbourne is eight hours ahead of European time, the effects of jet-lag are likely to be more pronounced going out to Australia than they will be on the return journey; so clearly there's going to be an effect on the body clocks of the players.
Research has shown that the body finds it harder to adapt to what effectively becomes a shorter day when flying from west to east, and is primed to respond to regular rhythms of daylight followed by darkness. When the brain senses that there is something different about this pattern, the body's system is thrown into a state where these rhythms - known as circadian rhythms - become unbalanced.
This leads primarily to sleep disruption but also brings the other symptoms mentioned. However, it's also been shown that there is a quicker adjustment to the body's circadian rhythms when returning in the opposite direction from east to west; so the effects on the players' systems will be a lot less on the way back than they will be in actually going out to Australia.
It's going to be a hectic schedule indeed. Just over a week later Real Madrid will then be in Munich for the Audi Cup with the first game due on the 4th August; and a second match 24 hrs later.
More locally-based fixtures will no doubt follow in the period when the squad return to Spain after the German tournament; but by that time the fitness team will likely be crying out for the time to do some serious ‘fine-tuning' back in Valdebebas.
The current management team didn't arrange this particular tour; although Rafa Benitez accepts that ventures like this are essential to the bigger clubs from the commercial aspect of the organisation.
Fitness coach Paco Miguel is less keen, and told AS Sports when appointed to Real Madrid that compared to a normal pre-season, going on tour means that a lot of the time is spent on the actual traveling and that 17% of training hours will be lost with improvements in physical fitness reduced by 24%.
Additionally, the need for acclimatisation to being on the other side of the world is going to hit preparations during the important early stages of the pre-season period. The Australian and far-east tour begins just after the squad have finished their first week training at home; so training days are going to be lost at a vital time as Paco Miguel pointed out earlier; and more will be lost to the acclimatising process on arrival in Melbourne.
In issuing a recent statement in which they called for management changes following their early exit from the Women's World Cup, lack of acclimatisation time on arrival in Canada was one of the factors cited by the Spanish squad which they felt contributed to their failure to progress in the tournament. Although other issues were raised as well, the players as a group didn't feel that they were given enough time to adjust to the Canadian climate before the competition began.
Rafa's being the diplomat I think when he talks of commercial responsibilities but his fitness team are a lot less enthusiastic about the whole affair. They know full well that they're going to be ones in the firing line if the fitness levels aren't up to scratch and players start picking up niggling injuries as a result.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact this tour will have on planning and preparation; but it will certainly won't be anything like a holiday - no matter how glamorous sounding the destinations may be.