8 June 2014


Albion fan and Bundesliga expert Jonathan Harding gives us an introduction to Sami Hyypia.

Back in 2009 when I was left sickened after Francis Laurent had just scored an injury-time winner for Southend at the Withdean, I never would have imagined what lay ahead for Brighton. From the Amex to Poyet and consecutive play-off semi-finals, I was left marvelling at where and how the club had progressed.

Now that the bitter taste surrounding Gus’ departure has all but been digested and Garcia’s interlude has come to an end, the attention turns to the new man entrusted with balancing our footballing hopes. Sami Hyypiä is a big name, but he arrives just as unproven as many of his predecessors.

Rudi Völler, Leverkusen’s sporting director, supported Hyypiä at the beginning of April 2014, saying the club didn’t feel the partnership was over because Sami was a fighter. Five days and a disastrous defeat to relegation-battlers Hamburg later, the Finn was out in the cold.

Völler was certainly right when he said that Hyypiä was still learning at the management level, and taking Leverkusen as your first job is topped only by David Moyes taking over at Manchester United in terms of being thrown in at the deep end.

Perhaps Brighton can be encouraged how quickly Hyypiä learned to swim though. In his first seven games in charge, Leverkusen won six, scoring 17 in the process. The club finished 2013 in second and hot on the heels of Bayern Munich. Yet amidst the rays of success, there were clouds of concern looming. A sloppy finish to the first half of the season was one thing, but the embarrassing performance against a far from formidable Manchester United side was a quiet reminder of Hyypiä’s limits.

From mid February until Hyypiä’s dismissal at the beginning of April, Leverkusen only picked up five league points from a possible 27. Three consecutive defeats to Schalke, Wolfsburg and Mainz (sides all aspiring for a European spot) damaged Leverkusen’s confidence and Hyypiä couldn’t haul them out of it.

“It’s clear that as a manager, he’s only had to enjoy the sunnier side of management so far. He’s never had to deal with a crisis, and that’s why he’s lacking a bit of experience in the current situation,” said Völler five days before sacking the Finn. While Völler’s words were true at the time, their validity has since expired. Hyypiä arrives at Brighton having experienced the pressure and expectation that comes with bad form.

While the former Liverpool defender does arrive with some pedigree, he’s still a fresh face in the managerial world and he must grow up fast if he is to make his time a success.

Too often during the Bundesliga season just finished, he seemingly failed or lacked the ability to motivate his side at pivotal moments. Hyypiä’s kind nature makes him appear more of a friend than a manager, something that may have hindered him. His tactical knowledge is growing, although he has a conservative tendency, and his naivety was surprising for a man of his footballing experience. His decision to rest his favoured front four in a league game against newly promoted Eintracht Braunschweig cost him three points, while vocalising his desire for clarification about his position to the press seemed youthfully unwise.

Hyypiä arrives at Brighton as a big name, but do not mistake Hyypiä the formidable central defender for Hyypiä the manager. One was a natural leader, the other is learning how to be one.

After one Latin-American cabaret and a Spanish affair, Brighton are in need of someone calmer and with less of an ego. Hyypiä certainly fits that bill perfectly, but it will be intriguing to see whether he can develop more than his tactical notebook at the club. If he does, the Seagulls could well fly higher than ever before.

Follow Jonathan at @JonBloggs66

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