Vladivostok Stuck Out on a Russian Limb

Ever since Luch-Energia Vladivostok made its Russian top-flight debut last year, the other 15 Premier League clubs have been dreading trips to the eastern port city on the Pacific Ocean.

Opposing coaches have often described the 15,000-km round trip through seven time zones as a nightmare, saying long flights and jet lag sap the strength and stamina of their teams.

"The worst thing was not the trip itself but the need to acclimatize to their time zone and then back to ours," said CSKA Moscow coach Valery Gazzayev, whose team crushed Luch 4-0 in Vladivostok last November to secure its second consecutive Russian league title.

"Such trips would throw your whole training schedule off balance. You'd need several weeks to get it back to normal."

Luch manager Sergei Pavlov laughs off such complaints.

"Everyone likes to talk about how tough it is to travel to Vladivostok," the veteran coach said, whose team lost only two league games at home throughout last season.

"But if you talk about long-distance flights, it is our team that has to travel the most. But we don't complain, we just take it as something we have to do."

Asked how many kilometers he thought his team had accumulated over the course of one season, Pavlov smiled: "I guess it's like flying to the moon and back."

Teams have used various methods to combat jet lag.

Some arrive two or three days in advance to better acclimatize themselves to Vladivostok, others choose to come on the day of the match, have a quick nap and be ready to play.

"We remained on Moscow time during our entire stay there," explained former Russia manager Yuri Syomin, who coached Dynamo Moscow last season. "Thus, when we came back to Moscow we didn't have to reacclimatize back to our time zone.

"But still, there's no guarantee it would help."

Pavlov, who guided his team to a respectable seventh-place finish on its top-flight debut, said there was no easy formula to compensate for jet lag.

"You can only minimize jet lag's impact with proper timing and preparation," said the long-time assistant to former Russia manager Oleg Romantsev.

Pavlov wants Luch to play in Europe next year.

"Our goal is to finish in the top five and qualify for the UEFA Cup," he said.

Asked if he would then expect Vladivostok, where the time is one hour ahead of Tokyo, to host European cup matches, Pavlov said: "Yes, sure. Why not? We are a Russian club, and Russia is part of the UEFA family. It's only fair that we would play our home games in Vladivostok."

Such a scenario would certainly give UEFA a headache.

"Teams from Western Europe dislike playing even in Moscow. But imagine, they would now have to travel to Vladivostok," one source close to the Russian FA said.

"If you take Britain, for example, Vladivostok is 10 time zones and over 10,000 kms away from London. We're talking about 14-hour flights just to get there. That could be a real nightmare."

Coaches are often faced with a dilemma over whether to take their first team to Vladivostok or leave some key players at home.

Last August, Spartak Moscow coach Vladimir Fedorov gambled by taking a second-string team to the Pacific shore and saving his top players for an upcoming Champions League match.

It backfired as Spartak lost 1-0 and the Muscovites later said the defeat had cost them the league title after they finished the season level on points with city rival CSKA.

The army club chose to take its full squad to Vladivostok for a title decider and duly won 4-0.

CSKA's triumph was short-lived, however, as several days later they lost 2-0 to Porto in a key Champions League encounter and failed to qualify for the knockout round.

"We were still feeling the effects of our trip to Vladivostok," CSKA coach Gazzayev said at the time.

CSKA's match in Vladivostok also posed scheduling problems.

The premier league rules stated that all matches during the last two rounds must start at the same time to avoid teams knowing the results of other matches in advance.

Even with an early afternoon kickoff in Moscow, it meant the game in Vladivostok finished near midnight.

Timing would be an even bigger issue if Luch qualified for Europe, but Pavlov remains upbeat.

"I'm sure our fans would love it. Even if we have a midnight start, I'm sure we'll have a full stadium," he said.