Welcome back to Greatest Transfers where we are counting down the 15 greatest transfers in Liverpool’s history. We’re at number 13 this week so if you’ve missed the honourable mentions, number 15 and number 14 then click on the links to check them out.
As I mentioned, it’s time for the lucky number 13 and it goes to a man that arrived in England in 1999 as a total unknown and within mere months, he was hailed as one of the finest defenders in the country. He became captain within a couple of years and received one of the best farewells seen at Anfield. He is, of course, none other than the greatest Finn to ever don the red shirt; Sami Hyypia.
Signed from Willem II in Holland in May 1999, quite how Hyypia ended up at Liverpool is a stroke of fortune. The story goes that the club were looking for strong, dependable defenders that weren’t Phil Babb when chief executive got a knock on his office door part way through the 1998/99 season. The knock was a cameraman who covered European football and who was aware that Liverpool needed a defender or two and he knew of a player.
Holland’s ‘it-team’ during the late 90s wasn’t any of the big guns but little Willem II who in 98/99 managed to improbably qualify for the Champions League. Their player of the season and captain? A 25 year old Finn named Sami Hyypia. Liverpool sent Ron Yeats (a legendary defender in his own right) to run the rule over him and he was in love with Hyypia instantly. Within weeks of Yeats’ recommendation, Hyypia was on his way to Anfield for £2.5 million.
The relative cheapness of the deal and Hyypia’s past career in the Eredivisie meant that he was rather written off by the English press as soon as he arrived. That changed very quickly as, despite a lack of pace, Hyypia began to showcase the qualities that would make him a legend at Liverpool. He could read the game so perfectly, win the ball cleanly and fairly and play the ball out of defence with ease as well as his penchant for a goal. He was a breath of fresh air and his partnership with fellow new signing Stephane Henchoz was maybe the best Liverpool have had in the last 20 years.
By the time the 2000/01 season rolled around, club captain Jamie Redknapp would spend most of his Liverpool career in the physio’s room meaning that the club needed stand-ins. That role went to both Robbie Fowler and Hyypia as the club went on to win a cup treble in 2001. By 2002, both Fowler and Redknapp had left the club meaning Hyypia was appointed club captain just three years after his arrival at the club.
However, Liverpool began to struggle under Houllier at this time and Hyypia’s form began to dip. 2003 saw Hyypia’s one and only red card in his club career against Manchester United and he was replaced as captain by Steven Gerrard.
Sami’s form would return towards the end of Houllier’s reign, by which point he was striking up a fairly good partnership at the back with Jamie Carragher. That would blossom under Rafa Benitez as Liverpool would the Champions League in 2005 and FA Cup in 2006.
As Sami began to enter the twilight of his career, young pretenders to his throne were brought to Anfield namely Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. Yet, while his play time was reduced, Hyypia remained a professional throughout until the end of his contract in 2009. Liverpool wanted him on the coaching staff but Hyypia decided he wanted to keep playing and went to Bayer Leverkusen. His final game at Anfield saw him replace Gerrard for the last five minutes or so and break down in tears at full time.
His departure meant he finished his Liverpool career with 464 appearances and 35 goals as well as two FA Cups, a League Cup, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League winner’s medal. His character, quality and knack of scoring important goals meant that Sami Hyypia will always be a legend at Liverpool and, for £2.5 million, he was (as Ron Yeats put it) “a steal.”
I’ll leave you with this montage of every one of Sami’s Liverpool goals.