When your brother is kidnapped for two weeks, the Mersey derby doesn't matter

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The Independent Online

As with growing up in a small village in Nigeria, so with being a footballer: it helps to be an optimist. That is why Joseph Yobo did not despair when his younger brother was once held for ransom for almost two weeks and why, more mundanely, he retains faith in a team that on Wednesday conceded three goals in 38 minutes to Hull City.

It is a time for looking on the bright side, since the background to today's Mersey derby could hardly be bleaker. Everton, on a high at one stage in the Premier League and Europe, have won one match out of 10, which was exactly Liverpool's record until a hollow victory in Hungary on Tuesday failed to prevent them being cast out of the Champions' League. Not since the teams met at Anfield 10 years ago, in Gérard Houllier's testing first season in sole charge of the home club, have they both been so far in the doldrums. Everton were 16th at that stage, Liverpool ninth; they finished 14th and seventh respectively.

Alarming personal events tend to put these things into perspective. In July 2008 Yobo heard that his brother Norum had been kidnapped. "It was crazy what happened," Yobo says. "It plays on his mind still and it is kind of difficult for him as well. It is something that will take a while to clear up, he is a family man with his wife and kids. But at the end of the day it was good they let him go and everything was sorted out. It is not nice what is happening in the country, they are doing it to a lot of people and I thought, 'why me, I am doing so well for my country, why is someone picking on my family?' It is only the government getting involved that can stop that."

The incident led Yobo to consider giving up international football. "When it happened I talked about it because it was a really very difficult situation for me and the response I got wasn't what I expected. Sometimes when you have a problem and you think people are going to stand up for you they are not there to do that. I thought that if I am playing well for my country but people are going to pay me back like this, then I thought I might just quit. But I spoke to a few people and my agent and we just thought that wasn't the right idea. I couldn't judge the whole nation on that basis."

So he will be there for Nigeria not just at the World Cup finals but at the African Nations Cup in January, along with team-mates Yabuku and Victor Anichebe, all hoping that by the time they depart for warmer climes Everton will be well away from the cold clutch of relegation fears that their manager, David Moyes, warned could soon embrace them.

"It is a massive game for us," Yobo said. "It is about the pride of the city. We have not done too well and the players have been feeling it. If we get a good result against Liverpool that will help us because it is a big game and when you do well in the big games, confidence turns around."

Liverpool's manager, Rafa Benitez, was in even more optimistic mood. "If you lose your confidence, it will be more difficult for you and your players to be ready for the next [game]," he said, before insisting: "I've a lot of confidence we will finish higher than the top four and I was happy listening to the players telling me the same."

That may draw a belly-laugh or two in Manchester and London, as well as on the other side of Stanley Park. Benitez, however, is not about to start doubting himself or his team. "Since I was 16 I knew I'd be a manager," he said. "I was sacked twice and I said 'listen, it doesn't matter, I will be a top manager'. Because I know my strengths and my weaknesses and I know I have to work very hard, and I work hard with passion."

Doldrums or not, that is the very least that 40,000 spectators will expect at Goodison today.

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