After armed riot squads, Milijas can take derby heat
Sunday 19 December 2010
When Wolverhampton Wanderers eventually face West Bromwich there will be no paramilitaries doing choreographed moves in the stands or armed riot squads to police them. The players' cars should be safe from their own fans. In fact, his experience of the Belgrade derby convinces Nenad Milijas he can stay cool amid the heat of the first Black Country spat between the two sides in the top flight for 26 years. He might have to wait a few weeks to find out, however, after today's match was postponed.
Milijas, a £2.6m capture by Wolves from Red Star 18 months ago, is aware of the antipathy between Albion and Wolves. But he explains that it took 5,000 police to ensure the last meeting with Partizan passed off peacefully – soon after the Serbian national team's followers had forced the abandonment of a Euro 2012 qualifier in Italy – whereas opposing factions at The Hawthorns are more likely to trade insults than missiles. "The pressure to perform in the Belgrade derby is massive," says Milijas, 27, although satisfying the fervour of the fans is not the only factor.
"They are the games people from other countries watch you in if you want to play somewhere else. I can't say that football in Serbia is great but players go [abroad] because they have a few good games in the derby."
Nemanja Vidic, at Manchester United, and Nikola Zigic, with Birmingham City, also proved themselves at Red Star. Milijas, who grew up devoted to the club, had a positive record against Partizan. "I won four times and lost twice, and I also scored three times, so I don't have a problem with pressure. The Belgrade game wasn't about the city but the whole country. The clubs play each other at many sports and the rivalry's there whether it's basketball or volleyball, but the football can draw a 70,000 crowd.
"The atmosphere is incredible. Our hotel was at the stadium, 100 yards from where Partizan play. The night before a derby and throughout the next day you can hear the fans – and see the flares and fireworks. It's crazy. If you lose, the supporters aren't happy. Sometimes they damage your cars, which happened when I was there."
Wolves are 19th in the table, seven points behind Albion, but Milijas says they are a better side than the one that survived last season. He has enjoyed being told in the street: "It's West Brom, you've got to win this," and realises the exchanges on the pitch will be fierce. "When it starts you forget about the fans and play your game. It's important to settle down, have a few good passes and forget all the talk that's gone before.
"Usually there's only a few chances, and you need to take one and keep a clean sheet. To do that you must have passion but also a cool head. In a derby a clever team wins, not the one who wants it more, because they both want it equally."
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