Sami Hyypia symbolised the passion and fanaticism of the KOP. He attained legendary status at Anfield, and won 10 major trophies with The Reds.
He was a mainstay in the heart of defence for just short of a decade, and formed a solid partnership with Jamie Carragher. Liverpool had been experiencing defensive issues prior to Hyypia’s arrival in 1999. The Reds leaked 49 goals during the 1998/99 campaign and many expected a marquee signing to arrive in Merseyside to boost the defence.
Hyypia was a relatively unknown player who was plying his trade in Holland with Willem II. Liverpool paid just £2.6 million to bring him to England, but supporters hardly expected him to be the saviour to their defensive woes.
Swiss defender Stephane Henchoz had also arrived at Liverpool ahead of the 1999/00 campaign and the pair unexpectedly formed a strong defensive partnership.
Gerard Houlier guided Liverpool to three major trophies during the 2000/01 season. Liverpool wrapped up the League Cup earlier in the year and consolidated their renaissance by winning the FA Cup and UEFA Cup in the latter stages of the season.
Finland international Hyypia was influential in their successes and was rewarded for his prominent performances by being selected to share the captaincy with Robbie Fowler during the following season.
Liverpool collected another two trophies in the shape of the FA Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup in the opening stages of the 2001/02 campaign.
Hyypia was included in the UEFA Team of the Year and PFA Team of the Year in 2001 and 2002 respectively. This was the period that Sami Hyypia was in his prime and he was undoubtedly amongst the greatest defenders in Europe.
Houlier was beginning to lose his grip at Anfield and won just the League Cup during his final two seasons at the helm. Rafa Benitez was selected to replace him at the beginning of the 2004/05 season and he masterfully converted Jamie Carragher from his original right-back position into a central defender.
Carragher and Hyypia formed a telepathic partnership and played an influential role in helping guide Liverpool into the UEFA Champions League final in 2005. AC Milan coasted into a three-goal lead during the first half, but Liverpool pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the UEFA Champions League.
Steven Gerrard kick-started their revival on 56 minutes and Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso completed the comeback over the following six minutes to send the affair into extra-time. The Reds emerged victorious on penalties and Hyypia achieved his lifelong dream of winning the UEFA Champions League and accomplished this in the most dramatic fashion possible.
Benitez entrusted Hyypia and Carragher to form the defensive spine of the team and rewarded the former with a new three-year contract at the end of the season. Liverpool won the FA Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup in 2005 and clinched the FA Cup with a dramatic victory over West Ham United at the Millennium Stadium.
Hyypia had been an irreplaceable figure in the heart of defence at Liverpool for over seven years, but gradually began to lose his place to Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. He was the perfect role model for both young defenders and passed over his experience to help enhance their understanding and knowledge of the game.
In May 2009, Sami Hyypia played out his final minutes in a Liverpool jersey during a 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Steven Gerrard touchingly handed him the armband when Hyypia replaced him with six minutes remaining and the supporters paid tribute to the Finnish international by wishing him farewell with a standing ovation at full-time.
Hyypia was a beloved figure at Anfield and struck a chord with supporters by virtue of his application, determination and willingness to succeed. He provided countless special memories during his 10 year spell at Anfield. His crunching challenges struck fear into his opponents, his darting headers posed a menacing threat inside the penalty area and the elements of bravery in moments of danger created a lovable character.
His physical qualities could be overlooked by some as compensating for lacking other aspects in his game. But Hyypia had every quality required to flourish at the highest level, spanning from his ability to read the game to his technical quality in possession.
Winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005 was undisputedly his finest achievement, but coming from a nation which is far from notorious for producing talented footballers and retaining a starting place in the heart of Liverpool’s defence for a decade means Hyypia can reflect on his career with a positive outlook.
He also expectedly amassed over 100 caps for Finland, although he was unable to achieve his dream of guiding his nation to a major tournament. He’s a national treasure in Finland and has been voted the country’s Player of the Year on a staggering ten occasions.
Bayer Leverkusen also enjoyed his services for a further two seasons, until Hyypia eventually announced his retirement at the end of the 2010/11 season. He’s went onto manage Bayer Leverkusen, Brighton & Hove Albion and FC Zurich, but has sadly been unable emulate his success as a player in management.
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