Sami Hyypiä: From Unknown to Liverpool Legend

liverpool defender sami hyypia

Player Profile: Sami Hyypiä

Date of Birth: 07/10/1973

Height: 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in)

Position: Centre-back

National Team: Finland

International Caps: 105

International Goals: 5

Club Career

In 1999, Gerard Houllier took sole charge of Liverpool and was given the task of shaking off the unwanted “Spice Boys” tag that had been attached to England’s sleeping giants. The glory days were starting to become a distant memory at Anfield and Houllier set about taking a more pragmatic approach to bring back the trophies the Kop so desperately craved.

Heads were turned when household names such as Paul Ince, Steve McManaman and Jason McAteer were allowed to leave and with players who were, in comparison, complete unknowns. One of those unknowns was Sami Hyypiä, brought in from Willem II for a fee of £2.6 million. Any Liverpool fan who would claim to have foreseen what was to follow is lying. The colossal Finn went on to be the foundation the new-look Liverpool was built upon. Ten trophies and 464 appearances later, Hyypiä is undeniably a club legend.

While making his name in his native Finland with MyPa, Hyypiä completed a two week trial with Kevin Keegan’s exciting Newcastle United in 1995. Keegan’s side were famous for focusing on the attacking side of the game while neglecting the defensive aspects. Nothing came of the trial and Hyypiä would be snapped up by Dutch outfit Willem II, a move that Keegan would, no doubt, later look back on with at least a small amount of regret.

This move thrust him into the spotlight. Four years in the Eredivisie culminated in a season which saw Hyypiä crowned as the club’s Player of the Year in a season where the unfashionable side recorded their best-ever finish in the league. Gérard Houllier identified Hyypiä as the rock on which he planned to build his new pragmatic Liverpool on, and he was swiped away in the summer of 1999 to begin his next adventure.

Few on Merseyside will have even heard of Hyypiä before his arrival, but his tall stature, as well as his bright blonde shock of hair, quickly turned heads. The calming presence of the Finn proved to be the perfect tonic to the slightly more eccentric defensive style displayed by new partner Stephane Henchoz. It was unconventional, but it worked.

Upon initial inspection, Hyypiä appeared to lack the pace needed to succeed in the lightening quick Premier League. But what he lacked in speed was more than made up for in an innate ability to be three or four steps ahead of the game. Simply kicking the ball past him and running was not going to work.

The centre-back wasted no time in settling into his new surroundings. He became a permanent fixture in Houllier’s Liverpool, featuring in every single match of his debut Premier League season. It was in his second season of 2000-01 where Hyypiä’s leadership qualities had clearly been recognised, and despite the fact he was relatively new to the team he was chosen to share the captaincy with Robbie Fowler in the continued absence of regular captain Jamie Redknapp.

That campaign proved to be a memorable one for Hyypiä, on a personal and collective level. The colossal centre-back led his new team to a famously dramatic treble by bringing home the League Cup, FA Cup and the UEFA Cup.

The following season, although not as fruitful in terms of silverware, will have held almost as much satisfaction for Hyypiä because Houllier’s transformation of Liverpool’s defence was complete. The Reds had gone from suffering from a porous defence to possessing a mean backline that shipped just 30 goals in the 2002/03 season, the stingiest in the division. 

Departures of two more of the old guard including Redknapp and Fowler saw a new permanent captain enter the fray in the form of a peroxide Finn.

Houllier’s era came to an end when the equally pragmatic Rafael Benitez to the helm. And with the change in manager came a new central defensive partner. The erratic Stéphane Henchoz made way for converted full-back Jamie Carragher who came in to form an even sturdier centre. Carragher went on to become a Liverpool legend himself but attributes much of his growth in his new position to playing alongside the great Hyypiä.

We all know how Benitez’s first season ended. Few would have predicted that six years after Hyypiä arrived at a beleaguered Liverpool they would be crowned the kings of Europe for the fifth time. He played a massive part in that too, not least the cultured, side-footed volley he placed past the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in the quarter-final at Anfield.

A season later, Hyypiä was involved in more silverware. He will want to forget his missed spot-kick in the FA Cup final, but it mattered little as he helped his side bring another trophy back to Merseyside.

As the likes of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel came through to rival Hyypiä, the Finland veteran began to see his minutes cut. However, short term contracts continued to come his way as Benitez recognised what a valuable role model he was to have around the club.

His time at Liverpool came to an end in 2009 when he was offered a contract at Bayer Leverkusen despite a rumoured desire from The Reds to keep him in a coaching capacity. In fact, there were rumours that Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson tried to re-sign Hyypiä in August 2010 to be a part of his coaching staff, such is the high regard that he is held in at Anfield. After another season at Leverkusen, Hyypiä retired from playing football to take up the management position there. 

Believe it or not, for the fee Manchester United paid for Harry Maguire you could buy 30.7 Sami Hyypiä’s. It turns out that Liverpool bought a club legend for a bargain fee.

International Career

It’s little surprise that Sami Hyypiä is as much of a legend with his country and he is with his club. The giant centre-back made his senior debut for Finland at the tender age of 19 in 1992, starting an international career that would span 18 years.

His national team wasn’t one that enjoyed much (if any) success, so the majority of his achievements on this stage were personal ones. Hyypiä is one of four Finnish internationals to reach the 100 cap mark, a milestone he achieved in 2009.

He remains the second most capped Finland international of all time with 105 appearances. Only his former MyPa and Liverpool teammate, the legendary Jari Litmanen has more.

Where is Sami Hyypiä now?

Sami Hyypiä went into management as soon as his playing days were over. Firstly with Bayer Leverkusen, then Brighton & Hove Albion and most recently FC Zürich in Switzerland. Unfortunately for the Finn, he has not experienced much success as a coach and has been sacked from each position he has held. 

Did you know?

– Sami Hyypiä was initially brought to the attention of chief Liverpool scout Peter Robinson by a cameraman filming one of his matches.