He’s a true Liverpool Legend and as he left our club in 2009 for Germany, he left a big hole behind (not only in the defence)… Despite his 36 years of age Sami Hyypiä still is a phenomenal football player. In the Bundesliga he was chosen to the best defender of the year. In his current club – Bayer 04 Leverkusen – he’s still shining and impressing the team mates, fans and the pundits with his professionalism and an extraordinary personality. All Reds do miss him a lot. He’ll Never Walk Alone.
The following interview was published in the leading German football magazin “11 Freunde” (eng. “11 Friends”) in March 2010.
Sami Hyypiä, you’ve lived in Liverpool for ten years. A tough city?
SH: In the beginning of my time at Liverpool FC Christian Ziege, Sander Westerwald and myself were sitting in a restaurant when suddenly gun shoots where fired.. We ducked down immediately. When you hear shooting you just duck down automatically. There were two entrances and we couldn’t see anything from the place where we were sitting. The view was restricted. Apparently there was an argument with the bouncer. Somebody was shoot in the leg. When the excitement was over, we ended our meal in style.
Leverkusen in contrast, is a very save place.
That’s true, but I only come here to train and for the matches.
Comparing the night life, isn’t it a bit boring in Leverkusen?
Those things are of no importance for me. The training conditions need to be optimal, that is what counts. Night life never really interested me.
This is one of the reasons why you’re considered as the archetype of a professional footballer.
I am just who I am. Sure, I also go to parties, if I’m able to. I definitely do not live like a monk. But I take my profession very seriously and during my whole career I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to reach the stage I’m at now.
You’re 36 years old. If we believe the English media, you declined a position as a trainer before leaving Liverpool. It’s a very unusual decision considering that Liverpool was your youth dream team. Why did you do that?
Because I thought that, as a football player, I still have got something to offer. But as I see, you believe everything what the papers say …
So it wasn’t the whole truth?
You could say it like that … We’ve spoken about a new contract. But I decided to come here and play football. I still have time to become a trainer at the age of 40 or 50.
Markus Babbel said once, that he found you weeping in the dressing room after a defeat against Leicester City in 2001.
Sometimes the emotions in a match are just to much to take. And sometimes you have this feeling of not giving everything on the pitch, of letting the team down. This was one of the days I felt really bad. It’s no shame at all, to cry in the dressing room. This story shows how important football is for me. On the other hand, this approach sometimes made my life as a footballer really hard.
A weeping defender – that’s not really a picture of Liverpool’s dressing room every fan is having in mind.
Probably not. But we are all different and for me football is a very important part of my life. For some players it’s just one aspect of life and other things are more important for them. I haven’t seen many of my team mates crying after a lost match. Err …the longer I think about that … actually I only had stomach ache.
Keyword: Emotions. 2001 you became captain but were relegated to vice captaincy and third playmaker in the following years. There are many opinions about your professional handling of this situation. Some say you seemed liberated afterwards. Was it the case?
I’ve always been a person who took defeats very personally and all the burdens on my own shoulders. Perhaps the captaincy wasn’t to much for me, but I kind of felt even more responsible for everything. Relief isn’t the right word. Afterwards I had more freedom beside the pitch because in England everything concentrates on the captain.
How did the manager deliver you the news, that Steven Gerrard would take over the captaincy?
Mr. Houllier asked me into his office and communicated his decision to me. It was very late and everyone else already left. I met Stevie the day after during our training and he looked a little bit uncomfortable. I went to him and said that if he needed help, he always could talk to me. He was really relieved, I think. Sure, I wasn’t happy with that , but it was the manager’s decision which was good for the team. Especially for Stevie.
Did you feel less pressure afterwards?
In Liverpool we had to win every single match. You can compare it with Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. So in Liverpool we always had pressure – as a captain or not.
After the disempowerment you seemed to be the secret captain in the club. Today, Liverpool seems to miss you quite a lot – not only in the defence.
During my time in Liverpool I often thought I’d be disappointed if they didn’t miss me. I am in contact with some of the players but I can’t really change anything from here. What I do not want to do in the public is to talk about Liverpool’s current situation. I get many requests from the local media but I’vedeleted them all. I know how it works in England. I give a long Interview and they take just one sentence out and make it a big head line.
We try to do the same too … But let’s talk about the Mythos Dressing Room. The second half-time of the Champions League final 2005 is very famous in Germany too. What happened in the 15 minutes of Istanbul?
After the 0:3 in the first half we all were very disappointed, bur Mr. Benitez was very positive. He wasn’t screaming, he was very calm. He said, we’ve had 45 minutes to give to those Liverpool fans in the stadium something back. And there were more of them than the Italian fans. They came to the stadium to support us and did a fantastic job during the first half. We were able to here them singing outside even while we were sitting in the dressing room.
Did the fans change your approach? Or was it the substitution of Didi Hamman?
We changed the line-up a bit. Perhaps Didi was the biggest change we made that helped us. It does not have anything to do with magic. The first goal was very important. But no one of us expected to score twice in the second half. When you play against Italian teams, it’s hard enough to come back after one goal in back. So there wasn’t much hope in the team’s dressing room but we wanted to score one goal at least to not go under without a struggle.
Apparently, Jamie Carragher mentioned that you didn’t go back on the pitch with eleven men.
Well, actually we did play with ten men only. Steve Finnan had problems with his ankle. He decided to be substituted just in the moment we were about to go out. That’s why Djimi Traore had to stay in even though he should have been substituted. But he already was on his way to the shower! He then put his shoes on quickly and played the entire 120 minutes.
In the last ten years there’s been many magical moments in Liverpool. Like the match against Juventus for example, 20 years after the disaster of Heysel. Was it a special match for you as well?
Stevie was injured for the match in Turin so I went to the commemoration a day before the match instead of him. Alessandro del Piero, Juventus’ captain at this time, read out all the names of the victims with me. It was a very emotional moment. I actually don’t like this kind of atmosphere at all. But I found it important to represent Liverpool FC there. Every year we commemorated the other disaster: Hillsborough. This always was a fixed date on our schedule.
You’re now sort of a father figure in Leverkusen. How does it work with the younger guys in the team?
The beginning was a little bit stiff, because they didn’t know how they should rate me. But I’m just a normal guy. This helped a lot to adapt to the team. I’m someone who you get in touch with very easily. This helped a lot, especially in my case. They accepted me in the club very quickly.
The second part of the interview will follow tomorrow.