Russia Euro 2012 Focus – Russia look for fitness boost from expert Verheijen

At the beginning of every international football tournament, burnout is cited as one of the key factors in determining who is likely to walk away with the winner’s trophy. England are one of the nations commonly lamented for this, with a league that runs straight through from August to May at the highest of intensities – and without a winter break.

However Russia’s 2011-12 domestic league season, in which most of the national team’s players competed, ran for over a year, between March 2011 and May 2012. Such a lengthy campaign was to prepare the Russians for a switch in the seasonal position of their league system. Historically, the league ran from spring to autumn, but this will change as of the 2012-13 – the league will switch to a more widespread autumn to spring calendar. Among the benefits, it is hoped that this will help the performance of Russian sides in Europe.

But such a long domestic season does not come without consequences. All but three of Dick Advocaat’s Euro 2012 squad play their football in the Russian Premier League, the exceptions being Marat Izmailov, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrei Arshavin, of whom the latter finished his season playing at Zenit. As a result, fatigue has been touted as a possible issue in Russia’s European jaunt.

A Russian news website quoted national team physio Robert Ouderland as saying, in an attempt to reassured supporters: “You can rate the team’s condition at eight or nine points out of 10. I think that’s a great place to start.

In a bid to push their fitness closer to perfection, or at least keep it steady, Advocaat has drafted in fellow Dutchman and former Wales assistant manager Raymond Verheijen to assist Ouderland and his other backroom staff. Verheijen is widely considered to be an expert in matters of fitness and conditioning, meaning his expertise could be vital to the hopes of Russia.

Ouderland continued: “The coaching staff and Verheijen have discussed details of the training process and ideas about physical fitness. Being fresher, being more mobile and a more effective challenger to the opponent on the pitch – that’s the goal of the Russian national team.

Verheijen is no stranger to the international game. As well as his time at Wales, he was part of successful coaching setups with the Netherlands and South Korea in the past.

Despite working with the Russians in a consultancy role, Verheijen has been using his personal Twitter account to criticise other team’s conditioning strategies in the run-up to Poland and Ukraine. On Monday, he asked: “What’s going on in the Italian camp with all these muscle injuries? Typical Italian training methods?” Two days earlier, Roy Hodgson and England were the target: “Hamstring injury John Terry. Steven Gerrard cramp. England staff must be absolutely clueless. Why did they train so hard after long season?

Verheijen is undoubtedly opinionated on how he feels nations who suffer such ‘burnout’ issues should train in the run-up to a major tournament. He will be judged on whether his conditioning methods prevail. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev remains a doubt for the opener against Czech Republic on Friday as he continues to struggle with a long-term knee injury. For the record, that is Russia’s only injury concern.

Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.

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