As Celtic head into what will surely be one of the most demanding weeks of their season - a lunchtime trip to Pittodrie today followed by a seven-hour flight to Kazakhstan for Champions League duty on Tuesday - Neil Lennon finds himself fretting over the fitness of several of his players.
That many sustained their knocks and bruises while representing their countries in midweek only adds to his frustration. Managers and the media tend to talk about a team's "injury list" but Lennon literally had one yesterday, pulling a sheet of paper from his pocket with the names of those who may be absent today and possibly also for the first leg against Shakhtyor Karagandy.
"The team will be affected by what has happened in midweek, as well as by what we're facing next midweek," said the Celtic manager. "We've got a few doubts. In fact, I'll just read them out to you. [James] Forrest, [Scott] Brown, [Derk] Boerrigter, [Virgil] van Dijk, [Tomas] Rogic, [Mikael] Lustig, [Efe] Ambrose, [Amido] Balde and [Anthony] Stokes are all doubts, while [Darnell] Fisher is out. So I'm limited to what I can pick from, although we'll have a strong enough team. It's just trying to fit three games into six days with the Wednesday, Saturday, then Tuesday. We've just got to be careful because it's still early in the season and some still aren't at full fitness yet."
That much of Lennon's pre-match discourse centred on the pending trip to Central Asia, rather than today's SPFL Premiership match against Aberdeen, could be put down to the quirkiness of the tie and the complex travel arrangements. Lennon dispatched Garry Parker as an advance party so the first-team coach could take in Karagandy's league match against Astana today but was waiting to hear whether the Englishman had made it safely. "We've had a few technical hitches this week; he was refused for the flight at Frankfurt yesterday but we're hoping he's made it today."
Celtic are taking no chances ahead of a match that could define their season. They will fly out from Aberdeen Airport immediately after the conclusion of events at Pittodrie, arriving early tomorrow morning local time, two-and-a-half days before the game. If that seems overly cautious, then it was one formed after discussions with those who had made the journey before. "I spoke to people from the FAI in Dublin and, having played Kazakhstan, they felt they should have gone a day earlier," explained Lennon. "That's why we're leaving straight after the Aberdeen game, to get acclimatised quicker. Nutrition and hydration will be important, as will the time difference. You have to be wary of a touch of jet-lag. So Sunday will be a recovery day, that's very important."
For the modern itinerant football player, such journeys are no big deal. They are accustomed to flying abroad for Champions League and international fixtures and their clubs or countries make all the arrangements so all they need to do is turn up. Furthermore, footballers have a remarkable talent for being able to sleep just about anywhere and at any time of day.
"Travelling is like our second job," said Georgios Samaras with a dismissive shrug. "Last year from September to December, I spent more time in hotels and travelling than I did in my house in Glasgow. It is part of our life, we are used to it. Today it is Aberdeen, tomorrow it is Kazakhstan. It is normal. I will sleep or watch a movie. It is not boring. I have been a professional footballer for 10 years, I know how to travel and how to spend my time."
Aberdeen have been so fired up for this match that they might feel slightly miffed that Celtic do not seem quite as excited. There is little doubt that Lennon's focus is on the Champions League tie - a defeat in Kazakhstan will have greater ramifications than one at Pittodrie - but that does not mean he is willing to write this one off. "I don't want to lose and get into the habit of what we did last season," he said. "I don't want to come away from Aberdeen being six points behind them. So it's imperative that we perform well.
"I watched Aberdeen [against Motherwell] last Sunday. They conceded an early goal and maybe Aberdeen teams in the past would have gone under. But the response was excellent. They played very well in the first half and deserved to win the game. They've got their tails up at the minute. So, in some ways it's the toughest game we could have got before the Shakhter game. But, in some ways, it's ideal."
Most of Aberdeen's best days were over by the time Samaras was born in 1985 but the Greek showed decent awareness of Scottish football history. "Aberdeen is a great club with a great history. They were a really good Scottish club in the past and we need them to be reborn to help Scottish football. They need to build from this year to the next year to again become a top team in Scotland like they used to be."