Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Goodbye To The Big Finn

It’s the news that most Liverpool fans were shocked to hear but the departure of Liverpool’s number 4, Sami Hyypia, will definitely be an amicable one as the Finnish defender moves to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer.

For the past decade, Hyypia has been a colossal figure for the Anfield outfit and won various trophies and cups with Liverpool, including the famous treble in 2001. It would be toppings on ice if Liverpool were to win their first Premiership trophy this season.

Despite being in the twilight of his career, Hyypia still played an important role in Rafael Benitez’s side. His bagful of experience, impeccable position sense on the pitch and most importantly, cool as in iceman, he never complained playing second-fiddle to Daniel Agger or Martin Skrtel.

When called upon, he seldom disappoints. Liverpool’s most note-worthy win this year came from Old Trafford and the Big Finn played his part in it, stopping the rampant Man Utd.

That obviously, was just a small portion of what Hyypia has achieved in his 10 year stint at Anfield.

He arrived with a seemingly meager price-tag at 2.5mil GBP and that has to be one of the, if not the shrewdest purchase under Gerard Houllier’s regime. He immediately formed an impregnable partnership with Swiss, Stephane Henchoz.

Both Hyypia and Henchoz were the basis of Gerard Houllier’s side. The Frenchman’s love for counter-attacking football would not be possible without a defence which could soak up intense pressures. Hyypia, at the heart of defence, was unfazed.But the event which caught my eye the most would be Hyypia’s humility and meekness captured by the way he handled the skipper’s armband to current captain, Steven Gerrard in 2004.

The towering defender was a good choice for captaincy as retirement of Redknapp and departure of Robbie Fowler left the club with a power vacuum. Local heroes such as Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher were all still too young.

He readily availed himself and stepped up to take up the captaincy and perhaps knowing that he was just going to be a seat-warmer for the next Liverpool captain, Gerrard.

Unfortunately, a slight dip of form and the power transfer happened at the same time and therefore, many would presume that he was stripped off due to his poor form.

But despite of the blow, Sami Hyypia continued to be a dependable and loyal servant to the club. With modern day footballers love mouthing about their employers and selling exclusive gossips to the papers, Hyypia was never once found on papers for the wrong reasons.

He continued working hard and in spite of the managerial changes in 2005, he stuck on and put faith in Rafa Benitez and his ideologies. It didn’t take long for him to know that he has put his trust in the right man as Liverpool went on to win their 5th European Cup.

Thereafter, as age caught up with him, he would slowly retreat to the backbenches of Liverpool. With the purchase of younger defenders such as Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, Hyypia would find himself more and more as a backup rather than an indispensable part of Benitez’s plans.

But again, never once did Sami Hyypia voiced his unhappiness or about the lack of opportunity. He was still, dependable when called upon and still gave his best every single minute he’s on the pitch.

So as Hyypia signs his name on the dotted line, I believe most Liverpool fans would be happy for him. Even in his twilight of his career, he still hunger for some first team action, something which Benitez could not promise him.

All the best, Sami. You have been a loyal servant to the club and I guess everyone’s grateful for your useful contributions at Anfield for the past decade. Nobody will forget your towering presence, coolness in face of pressure, reading of the game and the exceptional character which is grade “A” compared to the new generation of players.

Please do come back to work for the backroom staff after your retirement and nurture youngsters, inculcate in them the beliefs and the love of football you have. In faith, I say we’ll be seeing him back in the near future.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Liverpool Surge past Abysmal Magpies

Liverpool 3 (Benayoun 22, Kuyt 28, Lucas 87)
Newcastle 0

After a troubled season of managerial changes, uncertainties and squad full of uncommitted players, Tyneside’s worse fear was soon realised yesterday at Anfield and that their Premiership status might be stripped away. Relegation for Alan Shearer’s men beckon.

Even the former Magpie hero could do nothing with the absolutely abhorring performance marred with countless of defensive mistakes, tactical naivety and terrible discispline.

Faced with heaps of expectation and pressure for survival, Shearer might now see it as a bridge too far for Newcastle as Liverpool comfortable swatted aside any hopes of them defeating the rampant home side.

Liverpool totally deserved the 3 goals and as Rafa Benitez noted after the game, it should’ve been more. Newcastle can count themselves fortunate that Anfield’s goal frames were on top of their form, stopping 3 clear goals from Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso, twice.

Aside from that, Joey Barton did what he does best and a two-footed studs up challenge on Alonso means that he’ll play no part in Newcastle’s relegation challenge, a particularly selfish act.

At such desperate moment where Newcastle needs all hands on deck, he threw in the towel. And from yesterday’s display, he doesn’t seem to be the only one.

Obafemi Martins, too, showed a total lack of commitment and couldn’t give two hoots about his team or their relegation fight. The most convicting and purposeful contribution he made all afternoon was when his name was finally on the 4th official’s board.

Defensively, Newcastle were not aggressive enough and gave Liverpool far too much space in midfield. Steven Gerrard could’ve gotten himself the match ball if only he had his shooting boots on and some match fitness with him.

The Liverpool midfield were handed the initiative as they were able to control the tempo at ease and firing pot shots at Steve Harper’s goal without much resistance. This was particularly depressing sight for Alan Shearer.

The most unforgiving part about Newcastle is their set piece defending and the Reds totally punished them for that.

Two out of three goals conceded at Anfield were down to appalling man-marking and lack of concentration. The number of players left ball-watching for Lucas’ headed goal was unbelievable.

It was the first Premiership goal for the Brazilian midfielder and he must’ve thought it could not have come any easier for him.

But ultimately, the game was tilted in Liverpool’s way as a controversial decision gave the home side the much-needed first goal.

Yossi Benayoun kneed in a Dirk Kuyt cross and replays showed that the Israeli midfielder was a yard offside before tapping the ball into the empty net.

But Liverpool’s superiority and dominance were apparent throughout and the scoreline was definitely no fluke. They hardly had to shift out of first gear and looked like they enjoyed the afternoon walk in the park.

For the supporters from Tyneside, it’s definitely heartbreaking to see the team disintegrate into such mess over such short period of time. Although they have yet to be relegated, based on their performance yesterday, they don’t deserve to stay up. No chance.

Day by day, it looks more like a modern day football tragedy as they slip out of the top flight and a slight chance of them disappearing into oblivion.

With a squad full of totally uncommitted have-beens and have-nots, it might just be a blessing in disguise, the thing which Newcastle needs to most now. A clear-out of deadwood players.

Whoever the next Newcastle manager may be (as Shearer said that he will not manage them past this season), he will be integral in Newcastle’s future and Mike Ashley can no longer make the same mistakes that he had made all these while. A right man must be picked for this transition period.

Or risk doing a Leeds United or Southampton, as the sun sets on these former top-flight mainstays. A fall from glory is quicker than most thought. Don’t be too surprised.

For Liverpool, they continue their good form but is it a little too late? With Man Utd only needing another 4 points to reclaim the title, even winning the rest of the games might not bring the elusive title back to Anfield.

It also, could be a bridge too far.