There won’t be a sympathy vote PFA award for Sami Hyypia as he ends his ten year career with Liverpool FC, but for Reds supporters his legend will remain as large as the 6’4 Finn himself.
Bought from Willem II in 1999 for a mere £2.5m, Hyypia is easily one of the greatest bargains in Liverpool’s rich history. 463 first team appearances and 35 goals. He formed brilliant defensive partnerships, first, with Stephane Henchoz and, later, with Jamie Carragher.
Jamie Redknapp’s injury troubles saw Hyypia take over as captain for most of Liverpool’s 00/01 treble-winning season. The next year he became permanant captain Steven Gerrard took over the role in 2003.
From November 2001 until February 2006, he played every minute of 57 consecutive European matches and was absolutely instrumental in Liverpool’s journey to Istanbul where they finally recaptured the European Cup.
While Hyypia’s vitality and speed have waned in the last couple of years, his keen instincts and long experience have kept him as sharp as ever. Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher enjoyed the most starts this year, but when Hyypia has been called into action, his always made his worth known with impeccable defending.
His unspoken message to the young, swift attackers coming at him: I may not be as fast as you, but I know exactly where you are going. I’ll meet you there. He’s lost pace, but his vision abounds.
His most important and impressive performance this season was against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Hyypia was the latest of additions to the starting XI when Alvaro Arbeloa picked up an injury while warming up for the match. Jamie Carragher was moved to right-back and Hyypia joined Martin Skrtel in central defense. With the strength and speed in United’s ranks, Hyypia was clearly not the first choice, but his outstanding display proved he can still get the job done when needed. United earned a penalty early on after Pepe Reina mistimed collecting the ball from Park Ji-Sung’s feet. But after that they had few serious chances on goal, due largely to Hyypia’s dilligence in breaking up attacks and dispossesing would-be scorers. Liverpool won 4-1. The first time they’d registered a victory at Old Trafford since April 2004.
Though defending was ever his chief responsibility, Hyypia’s goals will always stand out in supporters’ memories. With his height and heading ability, Hyypia has always been a danger off of corners and other set pieces, but he could strike well with his feet as well, evidenced in his volley against Juventus to open the scoring in the 2005 Champions League quarter-finals: one of his most memorable goals.
35 goals is a fine tally for a central defender.
Not getting regular starts this season has been difficult for Hyypia, so he will leave for Bayern Leverkusen on a two-year deal come summer. He hasn’t ruled out a return to Anfield in a coaching capacity later on, but he is intent on playing as much as possible for now. “We had a number of discussions and the possibility of a coaching role was mentioned but I don’t feel ready for that yet. I feel I still have a few more years in my legs to play football,” said Hyypia.
There will always be a place for Hyypia at Anfield. If he doesn’t come back to coach, his name will still stand among the greats as one of the finest defenders to ply his trade with the Merseyside club. Best of luck, Mr Hyypia.