Sami Hyypia: Mr. Liverpool
When Robbie Fowler was bundled out of Anfield by Gerard Houllier in 2001, I was shocked. When Michael Owen left in 2005, I felt let down. When Fowler finally got his proper goodbye with Rafa Benitez in 2007, I was saddened.
But when Sami Hyypia leaves this summer, I'll feel like I'm losing a friend.
Those who know me know that I was born into following Liverpool. You could say that my blood's red in a couple of ways really. But throughout most of my childhood I was seeing something very different to the team my dad watched, sat in the Kop and the Paddock week in, week out in the 1970's and 80's.
A team that struggled for honours instead of winning them. A team with the shadow of the past, and of Hillsborough, hanging over its head, sometimes blocking its view of the future.
And then everything seemed to change, and it did so with the arrival of a Frenchman.
Gerard Houllier, who began the club's revival, did so by transplanting into the heart of its defence a relic of the old days: a colossus of a man from Finland, who had followed the club as a boy.
I was only 15 years old when he signed for a paltry £2.5 million. I'd never heard of him, not many had, but when I saw him on the TV I thought he looked like he could headbutt a tree, step back and shout "timber."
The old Liverpool teams during the club's glory days were always famous for their forwards. Ian St. John, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, John Aldridge, and many more.
But in truth, the old teams were built on the solidity of their defence. Gigantic, committed and determined, like gatekeepers to the goal. Men like Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen, Larry Lloyd and Mark Lawrenson.
And that's what Sami was. It was as if he'd arrived in a time machine from 1984, like football's Doctor Who, come to rescue the club from the new age of fancy strikers and huge egos.
It wasn't that he was the first name on Houllier's team-sheet. He WAS the team-sheet, and everything else was built around him like a rock solid foundation.
He captained the team in the absence of Fowler and Redknapp, lifting the UEFA Cup with Robbie in the magnificent treble year, after his performances and leadership forced the club to its first trophies since a League Cup in 1995.
When Rafa took over in 2005, Hyypia gained a new stage and a new trophy, with the Champions League victory in Istanbul. Again, it was partly down to his fine displays at the back that teams like Juventus and Chelsea failed to break the Reds down at home.
For over a third of my life, and all my adult years, there's been a giant Finn at the back for Liverpool. Always determined, always strong, always in the right place, always fighting and leading; always impeccably behaved and gloriously dutiful and loyal to his team-mates, his fans and his manager.
To me, watching this new club form from the doldrums of the old, Sami was at the heart of everything. There at the beginning of the revival, present for the greatest of moments, as important to the club as anyone.
The new Liverpool FC is built on the foundations laid by Sami Hyypia, and he is Mr Liverpool. On Sunday I'll wake up sad to know that it'll be the day that I see my ultimate childhood hero, and the statue-like symbol of my club, for the 464th and final time.
So, here's to Big Sami. I'm sure every Liverpool fan will be sad to see you go, but they'll also be proud to have had you in their team. We'll keep an eye on you and your progress in Germany, and we'll be hoping to see you back at Anfield as a coach to help continue the dynasty you helped to begin.
Sami will never walk alone.
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