Kevin McNaughton knows exactly what kind of impact a trip to Dubai can have.
The former Don was part of the Cardiff City side that went on a mid-season break to the Middle East, used as a break from the hectic schedule of life in the English Championship by then-manager Malky Mackay, in 2013.
Something as simple to waking up to sunshine and training on a decent pitch proved to be galvanising factors. Cardiff lost just three games in the second half of the season and went on to win promotion to the Premier League.
The current crop of Dons players will be looking to reap the same benefits as they soak up some Dubai sunshine this week. For the second January in a row, Derek McInnes is taking his squad out to the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence for warm-weather training, plus a friendly against the Uzbek champions Lokomotiv Tashkent.
McNaughton, who played for the Dons between 2000 and 2006, gave an insight into the thinking behind such mid-season getaways as the one Aberdeen are embarking on.
He said: “What’s behind a lot of these trips is getting somewhere decent to train, as you’re at the time of year when you’re battling with frost. The boys will be getting some sun, rest and relaxation at some very good facilities. At the time the weather was horrendous – we were training indoors all the time, which wasn’t ideal. It was about 20 degrees when we were in Dubai, which was ideal. It wasn’t too hot and a bit of sun just lifts the spirits.
“When we went with Cardiff we were training pretty much every day and then getting the evening off to have a wander. Some of the boys played golf and it was a good way to relax. People think you’re just going for a jolly but there’s a lot of thought behind these trips. It helps with team-bonding, especially when you’re trying to push for a championship. We kicked on after that and it definitely had a good effect on us.”
An early exit from the FA Cup meant the Bluebirds had two weeks between their win against Blackpool and their next league fixture. Owner Vincent Tan’s backing allowed Cardiff to get five days in the United Arab Emirates, which preceded a run to the Championship title four months later.
McNaughton – who has also played for Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Caley Thistle – was with the Dons the last time a winter break was used in Scotland. It was scrapped after the 2002-03 campaign, only to be reintroduced by the SPFL ahead of the 2016-17 season.
He said: “I think you only end up getting a week off and, as a player, you would prefer that over the Christmas period to spend some time with your family. It’s hard over Christmas as you don’t get a lot of time with your family and tend to be travelling a lot.
“We went away one year with Aberdeen to Portugal but were doing double sessions every day. It was nothing exciting. It was like a mini pre-season where you’re hoping to get some half-decent weather.
“The training will be pretty hard once you get back into it, so it’s pretty short and sweet. It probably benefits you more playing down south, as you’re talking about playing 50 games a season if you make it to the play-offs.”
The 35-year-old – a player-coach with League 1 side Forfar Athletic – has kept an eye on matters at Pittodrie and sees an opportunity for them to put pressure on league leaders Celtic.
McNaughton said: “They’ve done quite well this season despite a couple of slip-ups. They have got a strong squad and have looked good when I’ve seen them. I’ve watched Celtic the last couple of weeks and they seem to have run out of steam a wee bit.”