One of the greatest defenders to have worn Liverpool’s royal red has just hung up his boots.
On signing Finnish international Sami Hyypia for Liverpool, Gerard Houllier said: “He's tall and good in the air, which is an indispensable asset when you play centre back in England. His passing is good, right or left. He's very confident and he can hold the defence together.”
Hyypiä and Jari Litmanen had spearheaded the rise and rise of Finnish outfit MyPa, finishing fourth in 1992. It set both youngsters on the road to recognition and stardom.
After swapping the Eredivisie for the Premiership, Hyypiä spent ten glorious years at Liverpool. The plucky Finn breezed into Anfield in 1999 after a £2.6 million transfer from Willem II. Hyypiä immediately provoked comparisons with the towering Ron Yeats who was Anfield chief scout and speaking of the new buy he said ‘it’s one of the best bits of business we've done over the years...a steal – a bargain’.
With Stéphane Henchoz, Hyypiä became the scourge of strikers, forming an ironclad pairing that made Houllier’s Red rearguard one of the tightest in Europe. The partnership was bettered soon after by the Hyypiä-Carragher partnership. Henchoz said of his mucker: “If I think of all the central defensive partners I have played alongside in my career, I would definitely say that Sami would have to be the best.”
With his leadership prowess, Hyypiä was given the armband which he held with distinction between 2001 and 2003 before handing over to the young Steven Gerrard. In 2001, Hyypiä skippered Liverpool to a memorable treble of League Cup, UEFA Cup and the F.A Cup.
Hyypiä played 464 games, scored 35 goals and went on a hot streak of 87 games January 2000 and October 2001 without receiving a solitary booking. Hyypiä was at the back when Liverpool pulled off the unthinkable in Istanbul by clawing back a three goal deficit against Milan to win the Champions League in 2005.
Six minutes from the end of Liverpool’s game with Spurs in May 2009, Rafa Benitez replaced Steven Gerrard with Hyypiä. It was a fantastically touching moment as Anfield rose to feverishly applaud the Finn for ten amazing years.
Writing in the Liverpool Echo Ian Rush said: "Sami will go down as probably the greatest signing of Gerard Houllier's reign as manager. If you are talking about dedication and passion for Liverpool I'd put him right up there alongside Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.”
After Litmanen, Hyypiä is the second most-capped Finnish player of all time, with 105 appearances and five goals.
Hyppia once said: “I go up to set-pieces and I've waited to score a goal. Of course my job is to keep clean sheets rather than score goals, but goals are a bonus." The blonde bomber has become an Anfield institution, and so many were baffled with the clubs decision to allow the giant Finn to leave for the Bundesliga.
Hyypiä has the hallmarks to be an excellent coach. He has natural authority and has captained all the teams he has represented. He will not walk alone, and many fans have romantic notions that a return to Anfield to form the backbone of a new boot room is imminent. Carragher spoke as a fan when he said: “I think when Sami finishes playing for Liverpool, he'll go down as one of the true greats at this club.”
Hyypiä, 37, will now effortlessly slot into an assistant role with new Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen, as well as Bayer Leverkusen. Speaking to the Finnish News Agency STT, ex Dundee United, Hibernian and Aberdeen star Paatelainen said; “Fair and honest. Everything is in place. Sami is prudent and does not make hasty decisions. He puts thought into everything he does.”
Amongst his admirers is Kenny Dalglish: “Sami has been an absolutely magnificent servant to this football club. He came in and showed his worth immediately.
He was made captain of the club and even when the decision was taken to make a change and give the armband to Steven Gerrard, the dignity he showed was brilliant and reflected tremendously well on him as a person. To spend ten years at the same club is a remarkable achievement, and even more so when that club is Liverpool and the demands to succeed year after year are exceptionally high.”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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