A captain’s job is important – but in a Merseyside derby even more so.
As soon as you get off the coach and into the changing room you can feel the anticipation building. You can’t just think about yourself, but your players too. I would be looking around the changing room and see how people were reacting to such a high-pressure situation.
Everyone is different. You’ll have some players who will sit quietly in a corner, other lads like Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler will be laughing and joking. You get some who just want to sit and focus with their headphones in. As a captain, it’s important you go round and make sure everyone is prepared and in the right frame of mind.
That’s what Jordan Henderson will be expected to do in the away dressing room, and even though Phil Jagielka is suspended he has a key role in the pre-match routine. If you get too wound-up and excited, you will often see players completely lose their heads on derby day. They lose their concentration, you start to see silly tackles and all of a sudden you’re down to ten men.
Steven Gerrard and Phil Neville captained Liverpool and Everton respectively and they were both red carded twice in this fixture – with 21 sending offs in the Premier League it’s the top flight’s dirtiest game and that’s what people now expect.
You know what the first 15 minutes of a Merseyside derby will be like. Hectic, exciting and wild. There’s going to be tackles flying around because that’s what derby day is about. It’s about controlling your emotions and controlling the game – then you’ll come out on top.
Admittedly it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it all, and it’s easy to say in hindsight but it’s important to try to not let it get to you as a player. You know how huge it is for the people of Liverpool. Every Merseyside derby feels like a cup final. People can try and say it’s ‘just another game.’ But you try saying that to the fans and the people of Liverpool.
As a player you’ve suddenly got triple the amount of press at the training ground, wanting to speak to all the players. You’re walking down the street in town in the week before the game and fans are running up to you and saying, ‘You better win on Saturday.’ No pressure then!
It means so much to the people of Liverpool. It gets the players fired up and the pressure mounts day-in-day-out leading up to the game. It means more to fans to win derby games than anything else, you want the bragging rights for your club.
It’s good to feel the butterflies in your stomach. It wouldn’t be derby day if you didn’t get those emotions. Like a boxer before a fight you’re nervous, but as soon as you get out of the tunnel and into the ring right you fight. The players have a job to do.
Sometimes when I watch Premier League football, you can hear a pin drop. It’s dull. Rest assured when it comes to Monday night the atmosphere will be a different level. We are in for a real treat.