In football one of the hardest things is when you play against your friends.
All week you’re focused on how you are going to get the better of them. You could be facing, for example, Liverpool or Manchester United and you know it’s going to be a big game with a full house. The fans are excited and fired up, talking about the game during the week.
You’re getting questions on the street like “Mario are you ready for the weekend? Do you think you’re going to win?”
And even if history showed my team would normally lose I would still go into the game with the mentality that today could be our day so let’s get in there.
Now that I’ve mentioned Liverpool I’ll take one of my friends Ryan Babel as a perfect example for preparing right. Normally we might talk or text each other during the week, but when I was going to be playing against him at the weekend I would break all contact and be more than ready to face him.
On matchday we’d be In the tunnel and he would walk up to me and shake hands with a smile but it would always be a short exchange. Today we won’t be friends for at least 90minutes.
I would really think about all the things he’s good at before and during the game. He is fast has a great right foot and loves to come inside to use it. But I knew one thing I would beat him in. My fitness. I always made sure I was fitter than any opponent I would face so I could keep attacking from the start of the game until they wouldn’t have enough energy and focus to attack me.
This would be something for Ryan to worry about and I could hear him breathing heavy sometimes during the game. When I heard that I knew that I had him and I would just have to keep going so soon he won’t be thinking about attacking but making sure I don’t attack. I would do this every game until one day he said: “I never play well against you.”
I thought I’m in his head and will keep doing the same the next game. The only time I told him how he could stop me was in the national team because when we’re in the same team it’s all about winning that game. I told him to stop standing next to me or 5 meters away. Hold 10m space between me and you so you can always see me making a move when I want to attack. But I didn’t tell him to press me when I had the ball because I wanted that advantage for the next game!
And yes, the next one he would use the tactic of standing off me but he would give too much time on the ball which allowed me to pick the pass while he was worried about me attacking again. Next thing you know he would be screamed at: “Go tight on him, don’t give him so much time on the ball!” and then I would attack again.
After the game we would always meet and he would laugh and joke but would say: “Bro you love to attack…” So I knew I was in his head again the whole game. I hope he reads this so he knew the trick I was using against him. But I’m not sure he will call me, and if not, I will call him and I know it’s going to be jokes all over again.