Sami Hyypia: The Birth Of a Legend
Bill Shankly once said of one of his greatest signings, Ron Yeats: "With him in defence we could play Arthur Askey in goal."
The pun was made tongue-in-cheek, but you could obviously see what the great man meant.
In terms of influential signings, Liverpool's stalwart defender Sami Hyypia may not carry the same footballing weight as Yeats (the Reds achieved promotion from the old Second Division and won the First Division title within three years of the Scottish legend signing), but in terms of footballing prowess, Hyypia is right up there with his "ancestral" counterpart.
Having arrived at Anfield in the Summer of 1999, Hyypia has won almost every honour available at both domestic and European level.
The FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup all duly arrived in 2001. The League Cup again in 2003. And of course, the Champions League in 2005 and the FA Cup in 2006.
Add to that a couple of Charity Shield's, throw in a couple of European Super Cup's, and basically you get my drift.
Hyypia is a born and bred champion.
However, with the arrival of Daniel Agger in 2006, and the purchase of Martin Skrtel in 2007, Hyypia's first team opportunities appeared less than fruitful. Limited is perhaps the best description.
When Rafa Benitez chose to leave his most experienced campaigner out of his Champions League squad for this year's group stages, you could well have been forgiven for thinking that the writing was well and truly on the wall for this Anfield giant.
With this in mind, many a "seasoned" professional may well have chosen to boot down the manager's door, or give quotes to an expectant and "hungry dog" press pack about "how it maybe time for me to leave", etc.
He simply rose to the challenge, brushed off the rumours about his impending Anfield departure and chose to fight for his place. And what a fight it was.
It did, however, need a turn of fortune to see "big Sami" regain his place in the Reds side.
Martin Skrtel's injury at Manchester City in September 2008 meant that Liverpool's blonde Finnish colossus took his rightful place at the heart of the Reds defence.
At 34 years of age, Hyypia may not have the legs of the fresh-faced youngster pictured signing in the Main Stand with Gerard Houllier all those years ago. But with the thinking and experience of 10 battle-hardened years at Anfield, what Sami lacks in pace, he more than makes up for with timing and agility.
His renaissance in the Liverpool side was complete last month, when after taking his place on the bench for the game with Manchester United at Old Trafford, he was called into action barely minutes before the two teams took to the field—due to an injury to full-back Alvaro Arbeloa in the warm-up.
His tackling and distribution were of the highest order as he rolled back the years with a magnificent performance. Indeed he looked like he had never been away, let alone warming the bench on a landmark day for Liverpool's Premiership campaign.
With Sami's Reds career coming to its final conclusion, and a rumoured one year extension on the table, punters wouldn't bet against this gentle giant of a man getting a deserved testimonial, and finally getting his hands on that one trophy that has eluded him so far—the Premier League.
If that's the case, then we could truly say that we have witnessed the "birth" of an Anfield legend.
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