April 22, 2010
Posted: 1026 GMT
The eruptions from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull caused chaos in Europe this week, as airspace across the continent was placed in lock down by authorities keen to stop planes being damaged by the abrasive ash plume.
The knock-on effect of this was that, for football teams and players competing in continental competition, the normal luxurious manner of traveling in chartered jet aircraft was ditched in favor of the good, old-fashioned road trip.
Soccer players and fans from Lagos to London will be familiar with cramming into a car to get to "the match," but it was something of a spectacle to see multimillionaires such as Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hugo Lloris doing the same to reach the venue of the semifinals of the most lucrative competition in world club football.
Reigning champions Barcelona chose to make the 600 mile, 9-hour journey from the shores of the Mediterranean in Catalonia to Italian giants Inter Milan in two coaches.
Like any long road trip, this entailed various stops at service stations along the route, giving opportunity for the stars of Barca to sign autographs and mingle with surprised motorists who had not countered on meeting some of the finest and most famous footballers on the planet when they stopped to fill up with petrol.
French side Lyon opted to tackle their 500 mile trip to German city Munich in nine minibuses, a strange choice for one of the nation's top sides, but maybe they felt the smaller, nimble vehicles would be better to negotiate the narrow lanes and by-ways of the Alps. Or maybe all the coaches had been booked?
Either way, both Barcelona and Lyon were both defeated (3-1 to Inter and and 1-0 to Bayern respectively) and now face the prospect of overhauling a deficit in the second leg of the semifinals. Barcelona's defeat was something of an upset for a team touted as the best in the world, with star players such as Messi and Xavi unusually quiet over the 90 minutes.
Lyon too were lackluster and struggled to threaten the Bayern goal as much as they would have liked. Had the volcano-initiated travel sapped their verve?
Jose Mourinho certainly seemed to think so, claiming that he "had a friend in the volcano" as it had helped his side, "I am responsible for that" said the seemingly now omnipotent Special One. Maybe he is right, that modern-day players have become so used to being wrapped in cotton wool that even a small move outside their comfort zone can hamper performance.
English clubs Liverpool and Fulham may add evidence to the theory that lengthy road hauls aren't the best way to prepare for top-class football matches if they lose to opponents Atletico Madrid and Hamburg respectively in the Europa League, only time will tell.
The funny thing is that Bayern had found a way to circumvent the need for arduous journeying, if the European lock down on flights had continued, that no other club across the continent had thought of - they planned to book a helicopter.
If the German giant's football reflects their clear-minded thinking maybe we could see Louis Van Gaal's team emerging as champions this year.