When Liverpool signed Ragnar Klavan the summer before last, it was a transfer that raised quite a few eyebrows. Considering Jurgen Klopp’s preference for high-energy tactics, it seemed something of a surprise that he saw a 30-year-old Estonian centre-back as a worthwhile addition. However, Klavan was not the first 30+ defender from Eastern Europe to sign for Liverpool in the modern era. Seven summers previously, Rafael Benitez brought Greek international Sotirios Kyrgiakos to Anfield, the experienced, ponytailed centre-half seen as a potential replacement for the departing Sami Hyypia.
Kyrgiakos was a bit-part player for the first half of the 2009/10 season, though, with Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher the preferred centre-back partnership. However, the Greek veteran enjoyed a fruitful run of games midway through the season which earned positive reviews from many quarters and he scored in a 1-1 draw at Stoke in January 2010. The defender was commended for his no-nonsense approach, one which solidified a flimsy Liverpool back four, but his run of games ended in acrimony after a two-footed lunge on Marouane Fellaini in the Merseyside derby rightly saw him sent off.
That impressive spell at the start of 2010 was as good as it got for Kyrgiakos at Anfield. He would, unfortunately, come to be remembered as part of one of the worst Liverpool teams of all time, namely the squad which was managed by Roy Hodgson. He was captain on the wretched night that the Reds were eliminated from the League Cup at Anfield by Northampton, while a rare goal against Blackpool came in an ignominious 1-2 home defeat to the newly-promoted side. At least when he next found the net, it was in a victory over Blackburn, although even then he sported a mistaken alternative of his surname on his shirt – the one and only time that someone dubbed ‘Kygriakos’ played for Liverpool. The Greek moved on at the end of the 2010/11 season after Kenny Dalglish had replaced the hapless Hodgson.
Kyrgiakos started his playing career with Greek giants Panathinaikos, who at the turn of the decade were regular Champions League participants. Indeed, the defender was involved in the squad that reached the quarter-finals of that competition in 2002. It was around this time that he made his debut for Greece, but an unfortunate injury ruled him out of his country’s fairytale triumph at Euro 2004, a tournament in which Kyrgiakos would otherwise have played (and quite possibly starred). He joined Rangers in January 2005, helping the Scottish club to reach the last 16 of the following season’s Champions League.
He spent a year and a half at Ibrox before moving to Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. His committed, assured performances helped to keep the club narrowly safe from relegation in his first season in Germany before they enjoyed an upturn in fortunes to finish in mid-table comfort the following year. Kyrgiakos played at Euro 2008, but Greece flopped in the defence of their European title, losing all three games in Austria. He had one injury-disrupted season with AEK Athens in his homeland before transferring to Liverpool, where he played under three managers in two seasons.
After leaving Anfield in 2011, Kyrgiakos was back in Germany with Wolfsburg, but despite being talked up by manager Felix Magath upon signing, the Greek defender had a nightmare stint with the Volkswagen-backed club and it wasn’t long before he had another go at the Premier League, joining Sunderland on loan for the latter months of the 2011/12 season. By the end of that loan spell, his career was very much on the wind-down and he would make one final transfer in 2014, relocating to Australia to sign for Sydney Olympic. He would only play two games for the club and, in July of that year, he retired from playing football. Kyrgiakos has led a reclusive existence since then, stepping away from professional football entirely. Indeed, a Google search for his name yields only nostalgic pieces relating to his playing heyday.
Kyrgiakos was never going to be a Liverpool legend and it was no great surprise when he moved on after two seasons at Anfield. However, most Kopites appreciated his tough attitude and genuine commitment, even if the quality was not always there. If only he was seven years younger, he would probably be a reassuring presence in a Liverpool squad that is currently devoid of defensive solidity.