Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tribute to my first permanent Liverpool captain : Sami Hyypia

This post was first written on Sportskeeda.

Click on the pic for a larger view.

Sami Hyypia was amongst the breed of the unsung heroes, never a superstar in the conventional sense. When he announced his retirement, it was indeed heartwarming to see him trend on twitter, worldwide mind you, on a day one of the most historic occurrences of our times took place: The death of Osama bin Laden.

Find me one person in wherever Sami Hyypia has played, who has something negative to say about him. Such was his likeable nature as a man. As the colossus at the back, he was one of the best imports of the Premier League era. 38th in the list of Liverpool FC’s official 100 players that shook the Kop, a club which is not short of greats says its own story.

Hyypia epitomized the term Gentle giant. Heart of the Liverpool defense for so long in the most physical league in the world, he once went 87 games without a booking. Even more astounding is the fact that he has been sent off just once in his entire career as a centre back. Incredible.

As a player, Hyypia was not the quickest. Where he lacked in pace, he covered up by his fantastic reading of the game. Alongside Stephane Henchoz, another defender not known for pace, he formed the backbone of the Liverpool side that went on to win the treble in 2001. Hyypia had a sense of intelligence and positioning that even the quickest forwards had trouble beating him. It is probably these qualities that are making the Liverpool faithful want him back badly in a coaching capacity. Looks like however that Leverkusen will be the first beneficiary of a fabulous footballing mind.
In hindsight, it was fitting that a legendary Liverpool defender of yesteryears Ron Yeats, then chief scout, went for his talents in the Dutch League where he played for Williem II Tiburg after being tipped off by a cameraman. He was one of the long lists of players roped in by Gerard Houllier just before his first season in sole charge of Liverpool. 2.5 million pounds for an unknown in those days raised eyebrows in Liverpool. The rest is history.

Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler shared the captaincy back then but their erratic fitness gave Hyypia the chance to become an assured leader on the pitch. Officially that is. It was around this time that Liverpool won their treble in 2001, and while Michael Owen took all the headlines, Hyypia led the team with an assurance not seen in Merseyside for years. He was at the heart of epic European shut outs of high flying Roma and Barcelona, both away. 2 years on, Steven Gerrard’s spectacular rise led to him giving up the armband to his young successor, but he never ceased to be a leader for the club.

His modest background and early years reflected during his career and he was a fantastic ambassador, wherever he went. On the pitch, the fact that his stay on Liverpool coinciding with Liverpool’s best period in the last two decades of largely underperformance shows his impact in the team.

His international career has seen him captain Finland, as well as hold the record for the 2nd most capped Finnish player. He was quite a handful in the opposition box and has scored some memorable goals. His volleys against United (2) and Juventus were finishes that any striker would be proud of.

From 2007-08 onwards, he slipped onto becoming a back up to Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Danny Agger, but no one could say his influence diminished. In the training ground, grooming youngsters to the pitch, performing when called upon without notice (4-1 win at Old Trafford). He wasn’t in the 25 member squad for the Champions League the same season (due to UEFA rules on no of homegrown players), and that is probably when he realized that the 2 years he thought he still had in him needed to be elsewhere. He was given a hero’s send off, and such emotions weren’t seen in Liverpool since local cult Robbie Fowler left for Leeds almost a decade back.

Mosaics on the Kop are generally reserved for something or someone very special.

‘Legend’ is probably the most overused term in sports, and nowadays generally awarded by the media. Hyypia however, one may argue, was a legend through sheer merit. He was not a fancy player, with all tricks and flicks. He was simply an old fashioned centre half. One you would feel assured if he was on your side. Both as a player, and sometimes more importantly, as a man.

He was a boyhood Liverpool fan. On the day he ends his playing career, one could say that Liverpool and its family are now firm fans of Sami Hyypia. The No. 4 at the back.

Thanks for the memories, fellow Red.

1 comment:

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