Setanta's Steve McManaman willing Liverpool to title glory
CHAOS to play in, simple to prepare for. Steve McManaman may be poised to make his derby debut in front of the cameras, but the experience from his playing days will ensure there is no need for him to spend the next few days with his head buried in a script.
Almost 10 years have passed since McManaman last experienced the hurly-burly of this neighbourhood squabble as a player, his final outing being a 3-2 win at Anfield in April 1999 which, perhaps, is best remembered for the way Robbie Fowler 'celebrated' a certain goal.
Much, of course, has changed since then. McManaman, for one, had a hugely successful spell with Real Madrid before finishing his career after a stint with Manchester City, while Liverpool and Everton's fortunes in domestic combat have dramatically improved.
But although the 36-year-old has spent much of the last decade in different parts of the world, his enthusiasm for the fortunes of Merseyside's two clubs has never waned, which means he will slip into his role as Setanta's main pundit next week as deftly as he used to skip past defenders.
Never short of an opinion, McManaman's articulate way of making a point ensures he is a breath of fresh air compared to some analysts who do nothing but state the obvious, and with talking points guaranteed in the imminent double header, it is no wonder he cannot wait to get going.
"When I had finished I just wanted to get away from it all and I had two years of travelling, doing one thing and another and of course, we had our first child," said McManaman, a midfielder whose talents were beyond question.
"I hadn't had any real thoughts of getting involved in the media, but I was contacted by Setanta and after a chat with a guy called Andrew Hornett, he outlined his plans. I knew they were a good company as they basically owned every scrap of TV in Ireland.
"Things moved on from there and I'm thoroughly enjoying it now. I work with some really nice people and you can't ask for more than going to a place of work, where things are enjoyable and you can have a laugh and a joke. It's like being part of another family.
"That was the case when I was a player - you'd be in a dressing room with 20 lads and the camaraderie would be great - and that is the case now. Again you're working with a crew of 20 people and you're working to one aim and that's to get a great show out.
"Some matches you read piles of notes and pages of statistics but for a derby it comes easy. I'm a local lad, who was lucky enough to play in a few, so it's all about conveying the emotion and passion involved.
"They should both be cracking occasions. Everton are doing well and have played some of their best football without a centre-forward. If they can stay in the top six again, it would be another great achievement and bring the focus back on Merseyside football again."
Passion is one thing that certain Liverpool supporters have accused McManaman of lacking for the club and some are still clearly irked by the manner of his departure to Madrid, as he became the first high-profile Bosman departure.
Accused of being avaricious and concerned only about himself, the final few months of his career at Anfield were played under a cloud, but these are issues that the man himself is happy to confront and is eager to set the record straight.
"My affinity for Liverpool is as strong as it always has been, of course it is," said McManaman, who wore the Liver Bird on his chest some 364 times, scoring 66 goals. "I've heard it all before when people say that because I was an Evertonian when I was a kid that I'm not bothered.
"Maybe if the situation now had been the case back then, when you could play in the Champions League by finishing fourth, things might have been different. It had nothing to do with contractual issues.
"I've said it a thousand times and people may or may not choose to listen. But the reason I left was to accept a different challenge, for footballing reasons. I wanted to play in the Champions League and Real Madrid gave me that chance. Living in Spain was a fantastic experience.
"But how could I not have an affinity for Liverpool? I know Rafa Benitez very well, as I do Rick Parry and David Moores. I played in the same team as Stevie and Carra and play for the Liverpool legends teams when I can.
"Put it this way - I will be over the moon if Stevie and Carra have got their hands on that trophy in May and I honestly believe they have an outstanding chance of doing it."
Manchester United could be top by the time Howard Webb gets Monday night's derby under way, but even that possible scenario won't cause McManaman - whose four-year spell in Spain saw him win the Champions League twice - to alter his view.
"People go on about them being ready to collapse but I just don't see it," he continued. "Over the last three months, they have looked incredibly strong and have played the best football out of the top three. All Chelsea seem to be doing is be chugging along.
"Prior to last weekend, Manchester United had been poor in a number of games and hadn't been scoring too many goals. Can you say the same about Liverpool? No. Never mind what happened against Stoke.
"They've got the best player in the country (Gerrard), the best centre-forward in the country (Fernando Torres) has been missing and if he comes back firing on all cylinders, what's stopping them?
"Pressure? That's nonsense. There's no pressure for Stevie - he's played in two European Cup finals. Is there any pressure for the Spanish lads who played in the Euro 2008 final? The games they have got coming up are like getting out of bed in the morning."
SIGHTS ARE SET ON BEING THE BOSS
STEVE McMANAMAN may currently enjoy the sanctuary of a television studio. But a part of him hankers for the chance to try his luck in a technical area.
Since hanging up his boots in 2005, the former Liverpool midfielder's involvement in the game that made him a household name has been restricted to working in the media.
But McManaman has made it his New Year's resolution to obtain the necessary qualifications to open up some different avenues.
However, his enthusiasm has been tempered slightly in recent months by the experiences of a number of men whom he played with and against.
"I'm still thinking of getting back into the game and hopefully I will do my coaching badges at some point this year," said McManaman, who was known on the Kop as 'Shaggy'.
"It was impossible to last year, but things are a bit more stable now. It is going to be hard, though. There seems to be far less jobs available for the younger guys.
"Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Tony Adams - it seems as if people have got it in for them. It's becoming a bit less attractive."
He is not, though, the type of character who would let a few negative headlines put him off and McManaman is quite clear in what he wants to do - if opportunity knocks.
"If I do get back in, I don't want to be a coach," he said. "I want to be a manager, but that's easier said than done.
"I want to be able to pick the team, make the decisions and everything that goes with it. That said, I can't do anything without my badges.
"It's better to be safe than sorry."
Steve McManaman factfileBorn: Bootle - 11.02.1972
Liverpool appearances: 364
Liverpool goals: 66
Other clubs: Real Madrid, Manchester City
Boyhood Evertonian who joined the Reds from school and as an apprentice cleaned John Barnes' boots.
Rose through the Anfield ranks and in December 1990 made his senior bow as a substitute in a 2-0 home win against Sheffield United.
Starred in the 1992 FA Cup final triumph over Sunderland and three years later shone at Wembley again as he scored twice in the Coca Cola Cup final win against Bolton.
His last Reds appearance was in a 3-0 win over Wimbledon in May 1999.
Left on a Bosman free transfer in the summer of 1999 and joined Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Capped his first season at the Bernabeu with a stunning strike in the 3-0 Champions League final victory against Valencia - becoming the first English player ever to win Europe's premier club competition with a foreign club.
Came on as a substitute in the 2002 Champions League final in which Real beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1.
In 2003 he signed for Manchester City but was dogged by injuries and retired after being released on a free transfer in May 2005.Won 37 caps for England and scored three goals.