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11 June 2014

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Following the appointment of Sami Hyypia as Brighton & Hove Albion manager on Friday, asked Indpendent football reporter and Seagulls season-ticket holder Nick Szczepanik to dust of his contacts book, track down some of his sportswriter colleagues and provide an insight into the club's new boss. Following on from part one, published yesterday, here's part two of Nick's findings.

Sami Hyypia's exploits on the field for Liverpool are well-known. The blond head was a magnet for the ball as the Reds' defence became the tightest in the Premier League, his uncanny reading of the game made up for any lack of pace, and he even managed to bag a few goals, including a memorable strike against Juventus at Anfield that helped Liverpool reach the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul and lift the trophy after one of the most magical nights in their illustrious history.

"In every single training session and in every single game he gives 100 per cent for the team and he has been a fantastic servant to this club," Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager who succeeded Houllier and inherited Hyypia, said. "He is always keen to help the youngsters and he sets them a really good example. He is a perfect professional."

Jamie Carragher came to appreciate his defensive partner as much as anyone. "I don't think you could use any other word for Sami than legend," he said. "If you look at the standard of his performances ever since he came to the club, his level of consistency then you would have to say he is up there with the very best centre backs we have ever had.

"And when you take into account his transfer fee you'd have to say pound for pound he is one of the club's greatest ever signings. He is definitely one of the best foreign players to play in the Premier League and he is arguably Liverpool's best ever foreign signing."

Tales abound of his immense hunger for success and a physical toughness that rendered him almost impervious to pain. He once tried to play on after having four stitches in his instep after a tackle from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United split his boot in half. Typically his main concern was that United had scored while he was off the field receiving treatment.

But what about Hyypia the man? What sort of character will be leading the Albion at the new Lancing training ground and into another Championship campaign? Again, it is impossible to find anything but positives from the people on Merseyside.

“Hyypia is without doubt the best team mate I have ever had," Fernando Torres once said. "Ten out of ten as a player and as a person. Everyone loves him. He never complains, he never sulks, you never hear a word out of place from him. I really admire him.”

David Anderson of The Mirror agrees. “He was very well thought-of around the place, never big-headed or anything. Everybody liked him because he could get on with everyone and wasn't one of those players who considered himself God's gift.”

The giving, in fact, came from Hyypia. During his final season at Anfield, he heard about the CityFM radio station's appeal to raise funds for a local children's hospital, Arrowe Park, who needed to find £50,000 for a new playroom. The defender offered to make up any shortfall in donations from listeners. He ended up paying £23,000, a superb gesture according to Tony Barrett of The Times, formerly with the Liverpool Echo.

“There will be those who will suggest that top level professional footballers are paid handsomely enough to make such gestures but that would be to miss the point altogether,” he said. “There are scores of millionaires in the Merseyside area who could have made that gesture but none of them did.

“It would be possible to go on and on, listing eulogy after eulogy in his honour. His football achievements are there for all to see and his ability as a player will linger in the memory long after his retirement but what set Hyypia apart more than anything else were his qualities as a human being.”

Those qualities do not win matches though, and Hyypia realised when he was offered only a single year's contract in 2009 that he would have to move on if he wanted to keep playing. Tony Barrett spoke to him shortly before his farewell appearance in a red shirt.

“I thanked him for his time, wished him luck for the future and then expressed my gratitude for everything he had done for the club. Sami didn't buy into the latter, though. For him it was the club that had done everything for him and he just felt fortunate to have been a part of it for as long as he had.

“But as he went on to talk about his affection for the fans, his eyes began to fill up. In a hard bitten industry like football, people don't reveal their emotions too often but here was one of the game's finest exponents showing exactly how much Liverpool Football Club and its fans meant to him.”

So deep did the bond between player, club and fans become that is not entirely fanciful to suggest that, by hiring Hyypia as manager, Albion instantly acquired 40,000-plus new supporters – even though they may find it alien to cheer on a team in blue and white.

But is there, then, a danger that Albion's new boss will see a return to Anfield as his ultimate destiny, and that Brighton fans will experience an unsettling sense of deja vu after, er, a certain previous manager declared that he might one day want to manage one or two of the clubs he played for?

“There was definitely a thought when he left that one day Sami would come back in some capacity, although Brendan Rodgers has his own people at the moment,” David Anderson said. “But it can't be bad to have ambition, can it? You don't want someone who just plans to sit somewhere for three years and just pick up the money.”

And while it is gratifying to hear of Sami Hyypia the wonderful human being and generous charity donor who gets on with everybody, doesn't a successful manager have to have a cold and ruthless streak? If nice guys finish last, has Hyypia got enough devil in him to make a successful manager?

Chris Bascombe, the Daily Telegraph's Merseyside man, thinks so.

“You can't be a success on the level he was at Liverpool for ten years without having something about you,” he said. “Anfield is a pressure cooker, especially the centre of the defence – look at last season and what it did to some people. If they'd had Sami they'd have won the League.”

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