By Liam Bekker
Remember the Name: is a new and unique 10 part series of blogs aimed at ‘remembering’ some of the big names that have graced the fields of Liverpool over the past 20 years, and in doing so illustrate the contributions they made to the mighty club. These players may have moved on, but their names haven’t – some are heroes, some are villains and some are a mixture of both.
First up, is former Captain Sami Hyypia.
In 1999, Liverpool signed then-relatively unknown Finnish defender Sami Hyypia from Willem II. This followed a stellar season which saw Sami captain the Dutch side to Champions League football and in the process become the clubs Player of the Year. The 2.6 million pound fee paid for him would soon turn out to be a true bargain.
Ron Yeats looking back on the deal “one of the best bits of business we’ve done over the years…a steal – a bargain”
Not expected to take the Kop by storm, Sami burst on to the scene, forming a solid centre-back partnership with Stephane Henchoz in his debut season. With full-time captain Jamie Redknapp out with a serious injury, Sami shared the captaincy with Robbie Fowler. The duo led Gerard Houllier’s men to historic Cup treble – picking up the League Cup, FA Cup and Uefa Cup. His performances that season also earned him his third consecutive FAF Finnish Footballer of the Year award (he would go on to grab 9 in total)
With both Fowler and Redknapp moving on the next season, Hyypia was promoted to first-choice captain. Although he was an obvious leader of men the Fin seemed weighed down by the armband and in 2003 was replaced by current skipper Steven Gerrard – a ‘demotion’ which would rejuvenate Sami’s performances in the future that lay ahead.
2004 saw the arrival of one Rafa Benitez and with him a change of tactics that saw Jamie Carragher join Hyypia at centre-back, in the process forming one of the most intimidating pairings in Liverpool history. Built around this partnership, the club went on to win the Champions League in what many consider the greatest match of all-time.
The 2005-2006 season saw Sami claim a winner’s medal in another amazing final as Liverpool beat West Ham for the FA Cup. This achievement was to be topped the next season as Sami broker into the top 25 in all-time appearances for Liverpool.
Come 2008, Sami was entering his 10th season with the club – a season which would see him make 20th on the appearance list, ultimately ending 10 caps ahead of Ron Yeats. At the end of the season, and at the end of his contract, Hyypia departed Anfield for the fields of Leverkusen. His last game for the club would come in the form of an 83rd substitution against Tottenham. He replaced Steven Gerrard, who personally pulled the armband on for Sami. At the sound of the final whistle, Sami was held aloft by the Liverpool players and received an emotional ovation from the crowd – such was his influence at the club. He departed with his name held in the highest regard, illustrated by being voted number 38 in Liverpool’s 100 Players who shook the Kop.
CHARACTER AND EUROPE
At the end of the Liverpool number 4’s journey with the club, former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres had this to say about not only the player he was, but the person he was:
“Sami may not have played every week but he was a 10 out of 10 guy on and off the pitch, bringing calm to the ground and having everyone’s admiration’.
When a TV cameraman recommended Sami to the Liverpool staff no one would have imagined the service he had just done the club. The 6’4 Fin would go on to be the picture of discipline and dependability. In 10 years Sami only got one red card and at one stage had gone 87 matches without a booking. But he wasn’t just good at marshaling the defence and keeping it clean, he was a constant goal threat from set pieces. The big man’s first goal came against North-West rivals Manchester United, but his best, and most important goal would be his left-footed strike against Juventus in the Champions League Quarter Final which would set us on our way to Istanbul. Sami happened to play in every single minute of every game of the Istanbul campaign – in fact, every minute of 57 consecutive European matches.
But just how important was Sami to Liverpool? The word ‘Legend’ is thrown around and is often undeserved, but, after 464 games and 35 goals for the club it is no surprise that many consider him to be just that and after 2 FA Cups, League Cups, Super Cups and one of each of the European trophies, it is rightly deserved. To end, Jamie Carragher once said:
“Sami will go down in history alongside Ron Yeats, Alan Hansen and Emlyn Hughes” – A fitting spot amongst legends.