The answer to Liverpool’s defensive problems came in the shape of an unknown Finnish player playing in the Dutch League with Willem II nine years ago. Who would ever have imagined, 445 games later, Sami Hyypia would become one of the best defender’s ever to grace the Anfield turf. “The word legend gets thrown around too loosely nowadays, Torres is not yet a legend, Owen isn’t, Redknapp isn’t, Gerrard might be, Carragher will be….. Hyypia IS.”
Sami began his league career with MYPA Anjalankoski playing 96 matches and helping them lift the Finnish Cup in 1992. He made his international debut that same year against Tunisia and his consistent form attracted Dutch side Willem II in 1995. After captaining Willem 11 finish runners up in the Dutch league ‘“ ensuring qualification for the Champions league, he opted for a move to Merseyside.
Back in May 1999, when Liverpool were crying out for a defensive dynamo and an influential leader, Gerard Houllier got both rolled into one by signing Sami Hyypia – for just Â£2.5million. On signing for Liverpool, Hyypia commented: ‘œIt was an unbelievable thrill when I was told of Liverpool’s interest. I was so excited and so honoured that a club the size of Liverpool wanted me’. Hyypia was a relatively unknown when he first joined Liverpool, but the ease in which he settled into the back line was amazing. Comfortable in possession, quick on the ground and dominant in the air, he quickly formed a watertight partnership with Stephane Henchoz at the heart of the defence. Hyypia commented after his first year at the club: ‘œI have to admit that this season has been far better than I ever thought it would be. It is always a case of going into the unknown when you go to a new club in a different country and I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t expect to start so many games as I have done.’
Hyypia endeared himself quickly to the Anfield faithful with assured performances and showed the Kop glimpses of their old defensive brilliance of the past which saw him nominated for the prestigious PFA Player of the Year Award. A phenominal achievent for a defender in his first year at a club! Hyypia’s impact in his first season at Anfield was such that, in the absence of injured duo Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler, Hyypia was given the honour of wearing the captains armband: ‘œThat was a real thrill for me and I was delighted the manager thought I was capable of doing the job’. Henchoz’s and Hyypia’s partnership at the back had the best defensive recored in the Premiership during their first season playing together.
The following season, Hyypia’s commanding performances at the heart of the defeance was a constant feature throughout the 2000/2001 season. Hyypia successfully led the team to their unprecedented treble success in his role as part time captain.
Hyypia played an instrumental part in Liverpool’s UEFA Cup, FA Cup and Carling Cup victories and helped them qualify for the Champions League. Liverpool played 63 games in total that season with Sami playing all 63 games! An even more remarkable statistic is Hyypia played all of these games without picking up a single yellow or red card, an extraordinary achievent for a centre half.
In the following season 2001/02 season, following the departure of Robbie Fowler, Houllier handed his trusty defender the captaincy on a permanent basis in April 2002. Hyypia had another fantastic season and was instrumental in leading the Reds to 2nd place in the league , where they were unlucky to finish behind a phenominal Arsenal side. The 2002/03 season saw Hyypia achieve another 3 memorable goals in 36 games in the Premiership. Sami captained the Reds to a Worthington Cup win over Manchester United in 2003.
The 2003/04 season saw Hyypia make over 50 appearances in all competitions for the Reds, helping them finish 4th in the table and secure a place in the Champions League qualifing round. The rise in prominence of Stevie Gerrard saw the captaincy taken off Hyypia at the start of the 03/04 capaign. Despite this, Hyypia simply got on with his job, and offered Gerrard his support and congratulations. Sami became the vice captain and showed how a true professional he really is.
With the arrival of Rafa Benitez came numerous personnel changes in th 2004/05 season. The highly established Hyypia/Henchoz defensive rock was dismantled and Hyypia had a new central defensive partner, Jamie Carragher. Hyypia made 49 appearances for the team, scoing 3 goals along the way. The newly formed Carragher/Hyypia partnership quickly became one of the most formidable pairings on the continent following Liverpool’s Champions League over Milan in the Ataturk. Hyypia has scored many memorable Champions League goals in his Anfield career but the one goal fans will never forget was the unstoppable volley to open the scoring against Juventus in the quarter final en route to the Champions League trophy.
Hyypia again had a fantastic season in 2005/06 season and his partnership with Carragher helped contribute to a record breaking run of clean sheets. Incredibly, Hyypia played every minute of 57 consecutive European games for the Reds from November 2001 to February 2006. The arrival of young Danish center back Daniel Agger in January 2006 provided competition for places.
The 2006/07 season saw Hyypia injured for a small part of the season but he still managed to get over 30 appearances. In January 2007 he overtook Ray Kennedy to climb into the top 25 position in the club’s all-time appearance table.
Daniel Agger began the 2007/08 season as Benitez’s first choice partner for Carragher at the heart of the defence, but Hyypia took full advantage of the Danish international’s lengthy injury this season. Hyypia has largely been ignored by the media and many fans this season. All season, he’s read the game intelligently, his positioning is desirable and his late tackles have been perfect. Hyypia has been magnificent. At the beginning of the season, Hyypia stood in as skipper in the absence of injured duo Stevie Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and headed home Liverpool’s second goal against Toulose despite his broken nose ‘“ one of his stand out performances of the season.
With Sami now aged 34, in the twilight of his career, Hyypia became the latest newspaper scapegoat in the wake of some poor Liverpool performances most notably against Besiktas in the Champions League at the start of the season. Hyypia managed to score 2 own goals in as many games at the start of the season most notably his belter against Everton! Hyypia became an instant target for fans and the press to blame…. Time and time again, Hyypia’s pace and age came into question. But Hyypia’s game is not based on pace, it never has been…. It’s based on intelligence and experienced quality positional excellence. Hyypia commented earlier in the season ‘œI dont think I’m any slower than I used to be. I’ve never been a rocket or a fast player. My style of playing hasn’t changed in 10 years or so. Its not that I’m getting any slower. Sometimes, the lack of pace is exposed, but I try to play my game and not try to have to run races against the quick strikers. I try to be in good positions all the time. That always been my game from when I was younger.‘
Hyypia has continued to perform admirably when called upon. Benitez commented earlier this season: ‘œEvery year, he has been a very good player for us. He’s a centre back with experience who’s good in the air and who can play the ball. He is playing more games than we maybe expected this season, but every game his performance is good.’ Despite the arrival of Slovakian centre back Martin Skrtel for 6 million in January and the persistent rumours of both Fulham and Newcastle closing in on his signature, Hyypia has performed impecably each and every match he’s played.
So much so, Rafa showed how much faith he has in him when he played him alongside Skrtel in the massive Champions League game v Inter Milan, with Carragher switched to right back. In the Champions League quarter final against Arsenal, Liverpool were not short of man of the match canditates, but in the opening 45 minutes, Hyypia stood out and played immensely. His thundering header against Arsenal was the third he has scored in European Cup quarter finals, a record which no other centre back can match.
Hyypia earnt himself a new one year deal towards the end of the season which sees him extend his stay at Anfield til 2009. Pepe Reina commented: ‘œIf it was not for Fernando Torres, he would easily be my player of the year. He has been consistent every single week of the season and to watch him play you would never believe for a minute that he is 34. I am delighted he has signed a new contract for another year and if he maintains this form, who is to say there cant be another year after that. People say has is not quick, but did Adebayor get past him with speed very often in our 3 games against him? I dont remember it if he did….’
The 6 times Finnish player of the year has been a great servant and a great ambassador for the club and is one of the finest defender ever to grace the Anfield turf. Liverpool’s trophies down the years were founded by the performances of its great defenders ‘“ Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Alan Kennedy, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson and Sami Hyypia’s name is now right up their with them.
One of the best things about Hyypia is his professionalism. There is madness on the pitch match in, match out with players not knowing if it is safe to talk to the ref or so busy bad mouthing the ref they get themselves booked, but when Sami commits a foul he doesn’t argue the toss with the ref, he just gets on with it ‘“ a little shrug or a cheeky smile and then he gets on with his job. Yes, he has scored some cracking goals but it is his attitude that makes him a legend for me and why I hope he is kept on as coach when his playing days are over. He would be such a positive influence on younger players.
It will be a sad day for Liverpool and for football when he finally hangs up his boots. Over the past 9 years it is difficult to recall more than a handful of games where Hyypia has not performed. Hyypia now enters his tenth season at Anfield that will take him into his testimonial year at the club. No better fitting tribute to such an outstanding player.
Sami Hyypia – A True Liverpool Legend