Unlikely boss Hyypia plots United demise from outside comfort zone
Here in a suite surveying the immaculate training pitches at Leverkusen's BayArena, Sami Hyypia is pronouncing upon English football in the same uncompromising manner with which he played it.
As befits the youngest manager in the Bundesliga, busy galvanising his Bayer Leverkusen team for their Champions League curtain-raiser at Manchester United tomorrow night, the Finn is an evangelist for the German way while bracingly critical of the league he has left behind.
"I saw a few games recently and I wondered if they were trying hard enough," he says. "Somehow the passion was not there."
With a piercing gaze, which in darker moods can call to mind a blond Nordic Bond villain, Hyypia explains: "This was always the trademark of the English game – the tempo was high and there were tackles. But this time I was thinking: 'What's happening?'
"When a player goes somewhere and he is earning £200,000 a week, he is happy just to get the money. Maybe players are not working hard, not putting their heart into the game."
Hyypia will not tolerate such a lackadaisical attitude at Leverkusen, the Champions League runners-up in 2002, with whose future he has been entrusted at the age of just 39.
A redoubtable centre-back for Liverpool for 10 straight seasons, he has been propelled at warp speed to the dilemmas of management, having assumed the top position in this corner of North Rhine-Westphalia after only six games as a 'trainee' and one season as caretaker alongside Sascha Lewandowski.
Scotching suggestions he was too cold to be an effective mentor for young players, he has steadily transformed perceptions of his personality. "I'm finding my way a little bit," he admits. "But when I get angry, I can be very loud. It's not like I am always peaceful."
Hyypia's restoration to Old Trafford tomorrow promises to be a poignant one. The last time he was there, he was the linchpin of a Liverpool side who grasped a memorable 4-1 victory in 2009.
Hyypia had never countenanced being a coach until the Leverkusen offer came, and he shuffles uneasily when asked if he has found a comfort in the job yet.
"I don't know if comfortable is the right word," he says. "As a player it was much easier. Somebody told you what to do. Now you have to plan, instruct, think constantly about the next day, the next week, the next game. It's wonderful I was given this job. I didn't expect it, and everything happened very quickly." (© Daily Telegraph, London)