Sami Hyypia has no regrets but is hurting at Liverpool's fall from grace

The scene was worthy of Liverpool's Melwood training ground as Sami Hyypia stood at the centre of a circle of players performing keep-ball.

Clinging on to the perimeter fence in their Bayern Leverkusen replica jerseys, dozens of young lads peered through the wire to catch a glimpse of the side at the top of the Bundesliga.

Way ahead: Sami Hyypia forging a new career in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen

'Every training session is open over here, it's one of the things I have to get used to,' said Hyypia at the building site that passes for the club's training base.

There are others, he said, like not being the tallest man in the city, getting Christmas off, being praised by Franz Beckenbauer as a pivotal reason why a club who finished ninth last season are leading the table with the fewest goals conceded - and, of course, like not playing for Liverpool.

After 10 distinguished years and 317 appearances, Hyypia's Anfield days ended in May. The central defender does not appear a man in shock. As he spoke yesterday at Leverkusen's reconfigured stadium, Hyypia appeared a man at ease.

Another change he has welcomed in his short time in Germany is that Leverkusen are frequently ignored.

'When I was at Liverpool I sometimes thought how it would be to be in an environment where there is less pressure,' said Hyypia. 'Now I know - even though expectations are going up because of the start we've had - but otherwise, in the media for example, Leverkusen are small.
'In Cologne they have three papers writing about FC Cologne and little about Leverkusen. I was thinking, "What a great situation, we can go into a season without any pressure".

'Of course, now there is a bit more, but it's nothing like Liverpool. Here you see it when Bayern Munich lose a game or draw, it's all "crisis", the papers and TV are full of it. I wouldn't say it's a relaxing environment, but it's different. I would never want to relax in football. I want success.'
Hard times: Hyypia at Liverpool last season
Hyypia had his share of that at Anfield. He won the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup twice. But not the Barclays Premier League.

Although his new club are top and can extend their lead on Friday night at home to Borussia Dortmund, Hyypia is taking nothing for granted. He knows one of Bayer's nicknames is Neverkusen. It was coined after they came second four times in five seasons from 1999.

'Yeah, I heard about Neverkusen,' he said ruefully. 'But I've never won a league anywhere, either.'

Leverkusen also lost the German Cup final last season, which Hyypia watched in Finland. 'That was our ticket into Europe,' he said.

He had taken four DVDs of Leverkusen games with him to learn about his new colleagues and the coach's tactics.

'It's no great research, I played here twice in the Champions League. But I didn't know much about the history of the club so I called all the German people I knew - Markus Babbel, Philip Degen, who was at Dortmund, Didi Hamann. All of them were positive, nothing negative.'

Manager Bruno Labbadia left for Hamburg soon after Hyypia signed a two-year contract. Jupp Heynckes arrived. Hyypia was undisturbed, another difference here is the sporting director's influence. Leverkusen's is Rudi Voller, another to have lavished praise on Hyypia's mature contribution to a young squad.

He was 36 this month and has 103 caps for Finland, but yesterday he was bright and youthful.

The thought is that Liverpool could still do with Hyypia. But it is not his thought.

He referred to Liverpool as 'my club' but is sufficiently loyal not to want to make Rafa Benitez's bad week any worse.

'I didn't feel I needed a new challenge,' he said of his departure. 'I had a great time at Liverpool. Ten years at a club like that. But when you are not playing and a chance comes to do something about it, then you go for it.

'I'm very sad that Liverpool are struggling a little bit. They're a great club, great fans, I'll always wish them success. But what's happening there is not really my business.'

Wealth of experience: Hyypia is still going strong on the international scene with Finland at the age of 36 as well as former Red Jari Litmanen.

Yet he will watch the Manchester United game; his last Liverpool start was in the 4-1 win at Old Trafford in March.

'Cracking,' he said.

There was also the memory of his first Liverpool goal, way back in the last century.

'We lost 3-2 but I scored my first Liverpool goal against Manchester United. Jaap Stam was marking but they had a goalkeeper called Taibi, who came out. Maybe there was a mix-up in communication. I headed into an empty net. I scored at the Kop as well, with my left foot. I haven't scored that many, I can remember them all.

'And we won twice at Old Trafford 1-0, Danny Murphy each time. As a player you always want to be part of those games but in the past few years I didn't play in many of the big games, against Chelsea or United or Arsenal.

'It's the manager's choice, I've nothing against that, I've nothing against Mr Benitez. But the big games are the ones you want most.'

At Bayer Leverkusen, Sami Hyypia may be part of more of those than anyone expected.

Copyright - Daily Mail


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