He may be a cerebral, mild-mannered sort but Erik Sviatchenko loves to be hated on a football pitch. The Celtic defender faces an afternoon to embrace, then, courtesy of what are sure to be 40,000 pumped-up Rangers fans as the Scottish champions visit the home of their ancient adversaries for the first time since 2012.
The Dane has never known what it is like to face down so sizeable an opposing support in a domestic environment as he will at Ibrox this lunchtime with no stadium the size of Glasgow’s football citadels in his homeland.
That is not to say he doesn’t have experience from his Midtjylland days to draw on for a jaunt across the city over which he has no sense of trepidation, as would hardly be expected with Brendan Rodgers’ side out of sight of their hosts in having established a 16-point lead in the Premiership courtesy of 14 consecutive league wins in a 23-game unbeaten domestic campaign.
“I have heard it [Ibrox] can be a bit hostile – in a good way. I like the big games and to try different stadiums around Scotland and Europe. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have any problems with a bit of attention or abuse – that’s fine. We had a derby in Denmark when I played for Midtjylland against Viborg and there were always a lot of shouts.
“Things were shouted that were not so good but that’s just the way it is – it’s never personal but it will always happen if you can get after a player. I played with Viborg as a youth player until I was 14 but never beyond that and then I moved. That gave them something to hang on to. This year the atmosphere against Hapoel Beer-sheva [in the Champions League play-off] was tough.
“When we came on before the game they were really loud and whistling and it was a bit mental. It’s just the normal thing – there will be shouts but I never take it in. What can you use it for? If you do your best then you can’t do anything more. Nothing that will be shouted can affect me.”
Sviatchenko is only a couple of weeks short of reaching the year-mark since his £1.5 million move and his love of Glasgow extends to affection for the Rangers supporters he has encountered going about his daily business. The 25-year-old admirably isn’t po-faced about the rivalry between Scotland’s two biggest clubs. “I haven’t experienced any bad atmosphere in Glasgow,” he said. “If a Rangers fan approaches me then they make a joke about things. Maybe they will ask for a photo beside me with them wearing their Rangers shirt. That has happened but it’s fine. I like it that people are always respectful when I am out with my family.”
The league table and form probably has left many Ibrox fans feeling unable to quibble with the notion their team are a long way off Celtic – as Mark Warburton himself essentially acknowledged this week.
“I think since we played the last game we have only progressed in the style of play and the intensity,” said Sviatchenko. “We have played different types of games. I think we are prepared as a team and as individuals. If we talk gaps – then that is up to you if you think the gap is bigger or smaller. I think we have been progressing. If that means they have progressed too then the gap may be the same.”
Whatever the gap, Sviatchenko is smart enough to recognise that any game is a one-off situation where anything can happen. That said, it does feel like today’s occasion has been diminished because of the gulf between the teams.
“I think these games always have their own spirit and life,” he said. “Everything can happen. Maybe in the game it can level because of the intensity. That is good because it gives the game a magical quality. It would be unfortunate [if the winning streak were to end] so that’s why we need to win.
“One game is not decisive in terms of what we have been doing for six months even though it is Rangers at Ibrox. It will be unfair to us as players or staff to say one thing will change everything and make it negative. That is unrealistic. We have to look at the bigger picture. If we put everything into it then we will come out with a good result.”
Sviatchenko is blunt about the fact that there will be a “fear factor” for Rangers today. “There will be for sure, but they will do everything to stop it,” he said. “If there is fear afterwards then so be it. But the most important thing is for us to be at our best and try to win.”