Liverpool weathered the heat and their fair share of injuries on a whirlwind American tour, and as the competitive start to the 2019-20 season draws closer, The Liverpool Offside had the chance to sit down with former Reds stalwart and current club ambassador Sami Hyypia to discuss everyone’s favorite topic, Liverpool FC.
O.T. Obaisi: Hi, Sami! Great to link up with you as we wrap this USA preseason tour. How was your reception and interaction with the fans you met along the way? What did you think of a few of our renditions of You’ll Never Walk Alone?
Sami Hyypiä: It really is a trademark of the global fan base of this club. You hear the crowd singing and you get goosebumps. It’s a great feeling the same way it is at Anfield when the whole stadium is singing it before the game—it’s just a special feeling.
And it’s great because many people don’t have the opportunity to come to England to see the games so singing YNWA with the fans is a way to feel something similar. I remember when I was playing and we came to America for a preseason tour and the reception was always amazing.
The club has such a huge fanbase and it’s great to see how it’s growing and growing here. Hopefully people who aren’t even Liverpool or football fans came to see the games and will be able to see a team that is playing in such an exciting way to grow the support in the coming years as well.
OT: I hope so, too. The sport is growing so fast here in the States and it’s a great time to be a fan of the sport and club. Case in point the recent video posted by the official Liverpool Youtube channel of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders reliving key moments from the Champions League campaign. As he watched footage of fans from all over the world celebrating after winning the final, all Klopp could say was, “This club is so big.”
SH: It’s pretty incredible and I’m happy that I was able to be a part of that as well. It’s great the club is working with us ex-players to continue to keep us close to the fans and the fans close to us. I think many people don’t realize how big Liverpool actually is. We get to travel all over the world for the club and the reception of the fans in Asia, Africa and everywhere reminds us that this is a special club that you have to be a part of to experience fully.
OT: It was interesting to watch on the tour with so many Liverpool stars having a busy summer playing for the national teams including Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Alisson. It’s meant that a lot of the youngsters have had more time to shine. Has anyone stood out to you?
SH: I agree that it’s been a great opportunity for the younger players to get on the field in front of the big crowds with the senior players, and hopefully one or two of them will have made a case for themselves to get involved with the first team. Rhian Brewster in particular showed that he is a natural goal scorer with four goals in his first three games. He stood out for me in these games.
We know that Jürgen Klopp is not afraid to put a youngster on the field and give them responsibility and this tour has been a great opportunity for them to show the manager who they are.
Some of the players had to continue the “season after the season” with these summer tournaments, and some of them will need that extended holiday to relax a bit and relieve the mental pressure as well to be ready for the upcoming season. The players who played in the African Cup of Nations and the Copa America can’t be rushed back from their holiday and everyone needs the balance. That way they aren’t too tired when the season starts and reduces the risk of injuries.
OT: That’s very true. On the other hand, I wonder sometimes whether players taking the whole summer off free of additional tournaments is better than a shorter break as way to maintain rhythm. In your experience as a seasoned international for Finland, which option did you find helped you over the course of the following season?
SH: Of course, if you only take off two or three weeks off then you don’t lose your fitness as much. Then the preseason is slightly less important in getting back to match fitness again and it doesn’t have to be that long. However, you have to remember though that the season starts now in August and it finishes in May. It’s a long, long time and if you only have a few weeks break in two years then it becomes even more mentally and physically tough than playing the sport already is.
So it’s true that there has to be a balance of break time and training time to make sure you’re sharp but also that you won’t be burned out by December and January when the weather is bad.
OT: Completely agreed. As a supporter it’s natural to want to see your team and your favorite players as much as possible but we still have to remember that players aren’t machines and that everything has to be in moderation. It’s also why depth in the squad is so important! A few key names returning to the first team rotation from injury should ease the burden on the players who have had busy summers. Even so, it’s been a quiet summer on the transfer front. In your opinion, does the team still needs to make a move to strengthen?
SH: I’m not too worried. When you go through each position in the squad, you can see that we have actually pretty good cover. This time last year and even during the season, the media was speculating that we needed a center back for example. But, of course, you have to remember that Joe Gomez was about to come into the side and then he was out for a while once he got injured and he’s back now. And then you have James Milner who can basically play every position. I think there are more surprises like that in the squad and I think we are actually we are in a better position than people think because the manager knows exactly what he wants.
OT: I like what you said about James Milner’s versatility. I can’t remember which match Klopp had been referencing when he said this, but he mentioned how important Milner’s half time speeches where during tough times in the domestic and European campaigns, which only serves to highlight the importance of a veteran like Milner both on and off the pitch. Talk a little bit about the influence that players who have gone ahead before and won trophies like Milner have in guiding the younger players coming up.
SH: The importance [of veterans] can’t be measured. Also, Liverpool are fortunate in that it’s not only Milner in the team who is a leader, you have a few more now. When Virgil Van Dijk arrived, he was a good addition to the group of leaders and helped to take the weight and that responsibility both now and in the future.
You are seeing the effect of having so many leaders in the performances because the manager can’t go onto the field during the field to influence things. Having these sorts of personalities to organize things and calm players down when it’s hectic is so important.
I was lucky when I was playing that there were so many of these leaders on the field. When one player had a bad day then the second, third, fourth player had the responsibility and fired everyone up. Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Dietmar Hamann and so many more. I am very lucky that we had those strong characters on the field and even when you had a bad day in the office, the other players held things together.
OT: I want to talk about the experience of winning the Champions League with Liverpool as we did this past season. You were obviously played a major role in the famous team that won in Istanbul in 2005. Describe for us what Klopp and his players would’ve felt like when that final whistle blew in Madrid and how it differs from winning the trophy now that you’re a supporter.
It feels surreal. It’s a special feeling that is impossible to describe. You’re just hugging everyone who comes in front of you. I was at the final in Madrid as a supporter and I can tell you that the feeling after the final was similar to when we won in Istanbul.
Actually, I can say that I am more nervous now as a supporter than when I played myself because I am outside and can’t influence anything on the pitch. But I am so happy that we were successful. It’s a pity what happened in falling short in the Premier League to Manchester City. Only losing one game makes it unbelievable that we were not champions but City had an incredible season. It made the Champions League so much better because we deserved to win something after this season
I was speaking with the fans and I told them that we will probably lose two games this season but that we will win the league. That is my prediction.
We’d like to thank Sami Hyypiä again for finding the time to talk to us about Klopp, the club, and winning Champions League trophies—and two losses on the way to a Premier League title certainly works for us.