Part 6: French Evolution.
By TTT Subscriber Anthony Stanley.
Most people had never heard of the club, let alone the player. Willem II, an obscure Dutch club. A Finnish defender with two ‘y’s in his surname. There was a collective shrug of the shoulders throughout Liverpool and beyond when Sami signed and a general air of ‘who’?
Within a few months, this titan in the heart of the Reds defence was getting comparisons with legendary stoppers from Liverpool’s history.
But – and this has entered Reds’ folklore – we were fortunate to get the Finn, and it was not down to Gerard Houllier’s extensive European knowledge. Peter Robinson tells the story:
‘It was mid‐way through the 1998/99 season when there was a knock on the door of my office at Anfield’, Robinson said. “I had never met the chap. He came in and introduced himself as a cameraman who covered football in Europe. He knew we were looking for a strong defender and recommended we take a look at Sami, who was playing for Willem, one of the smaller Dutch clubs.
That is how it all started. I passed the message on to Gérard and, over the next few months, members of the staff went to Holland to watch him on several occasions.’
Hyypia signed for the Reds on 19th May 1999 for a bargain £2.5 million, and would go on to represent Liverpool with distinction for the next decade, winning everything apart from that elusive Premier League title and writing himself into Anfield mythology.
The signing of the gifted Finn was emblematic of the new Houllier modus operandi; the European model of player, rather than home grown, was now the order of the day. The Liverpool manager – in the summer of 1999, now looking forward to his first season in sole charge – had identified the need to shore up a leaky defence as one of paramount importance if the Reds were to begin to be rebuilt as a genuine Premier League force. The exuberance and thrilling, but ultimately brittle, days of Evans’ teams would be a thing of the past as the new French manager would implement a counter‐attacking side that could be devastating on its day but also have the capacity to veer into sterile territory.
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