Kop Legends Video clip Rating: four / five
Sammy Lee is Assistant Manager for Liverpool in the English Premier League. He has long had Liverpool in his heart, having spent many of his years as a player and coach at the Merseyside outfit. He is currently the number two to Rafael Benitez, and seems to fit the Assistant role better than being the manager – his only managerial role ended with one win in 11 matches, and the sack.
Sammy Lee was born on 7th February 1959, in Liverpool. He was spotted as a player of some potential as a child, and joined the Liverpool youth academy. He slowly progressed into the first-team as a hard-running midfielder, and became an integral member of the successful 1980s Liverpool side that won the English league title three times and the European Cup twice. He was capped by England 14 times by manager Bobby Robson.
As he aged, his place in the first-team was taken by a young Jan Molby, so Sammy headed round QPR, Osasuna, Southampton and Bolton before hanging up his boots.
Two years after retiring from football as a player, he returned to the beautiful game as a coach under manager and friend Graeme Souness at Liverpool. His leadership and coaching abilities ensured that he was kept on at Liverpool even after Souness had gone – working under both Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier.
A stint working part-time with the national side under Sven Goran Eriksson led to a permanent position, but Sammy Lee left when Sven was fired. Lee teamed up with Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers, getting the nickname “little Sam” because of his size. When “Big Sam” left, Sammy Lee was handed the managerial reins, but failed to find the winning formula. He was sacked after 11 games in charge.
Sammy Lee returned to Anfield in May 2008, with Rafael Benitez having been searching for an Assistant Manager for the whole of the previous season. He formed a fantastic partnership with Benitez, and is more suited as an Assistant – where he can be a friend to the players and not quite as ruthless as the manager has to be.
He has played his part in helping Liverpool to put up a genuine title challenge.
Sammy Lee played 14 times for England, and worked both part-time and full-time as a coach for England when Sven Goran Eriksson was manager. He left the post, citing the workload, but insists that working for his country was one of the best roles he has had.
Rafael Benitez is the manager of Liverpool in the English Premier League. He has slowly moulded the team in his image – a hard-working side with a never-say-die attitude. Benitez had instant success at Liverpool after arriving from Valencia, winning the UEFA Champions League in his first season at the club. He is currently building a team capable of challenging for the title.
Rafael Benitez was born on 16th April 1960 in Madrid. He was the son of a hotelier, and enjoyed a middle-class upbringing. He was a talented footballer, scouted by Real Madrid and playing in their youth teams. He looked after his future by studying at the same time (and represented his country for the Spanish Universities team). He had a bright future but never made it to the very top because of injury problems, causing him to retire from football early.
Benitez’s coaching career began at the age of just 26, when he returned to Real Madrid to help coach the youth teams. He led the U-19s to success over Barcelona in the league and cup competitions, which prompted a promotion to working as Assistant Manager to Vincent Del Bosque. This taste of top-level management left Rafa wanting more control, so he left to become a first-team manager in the summer of 1995.
Stints at Valladolid and Osasuna didn’t go as planned, and it was only when Benitez was in his third job, with Extremadura in the second division, that Rafa began to show his potential as a coach. He led the team to promotion, though suffered the disappointment of relegation from the Primera Liga the season after.
He spent a year visiting various clubs across Italy, England and Spain to pick up new coaching techniques before taking on a role at Tenerife – again in the second division, and again winning promotion. Valencia gambled on Benitez, and made him their manager in June 2001.
Rafa Benitez became the most successful coach in Valencia’s history in the three seasons he was there – winning the Primera Liga twice, playing brilliant, attacking football, and leading the club to success in Europe with the UEFA Cup. His successes were not rewarded by the club, who wanted to take transfer-policy away from Rafa. Benitez resigned, and left the club for pastures new.
Rafael Benitez arrived at Anfield in July 2004, replacing Frenchman Gerard Houllier at the club, and taking over a team of underperforming players, including Steven Gerrard and Didi Hamann. Michael Owen was sold to Real Madrid within weeks of Benitez’s arrival, causing Rafa to strengthen with Milan Baros and Fernando Morientes.
In spite of his managerial qualities, Benitez failed to get the team to challenge for the title, finishing fifth, but performed beyond expectations in the cups. Liverpool were unlucky losers in the Carling Cup, but somehow managed to come back from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan to level the match and win the Champions League Final on penalties!
2005/06 saw Benitez lead the team to third in the Premier League, one point off second spot, and capped off a good campaign with an FA Cup victory over West Ham. AC Milan got revenge for their 2005 Champions League loss when the two clubs met again in the 2007 Champions League Final. There were no mistakes from the Italians this time, as they ran out 2-1 winners.
There were board-room battles to be fought over the next few years, with the club changing hands to American owners. With transfer-policy again being slowly taken from Rafa Benitez he refused to sign a new contract until he had assurances, despite Liverpool topping the table and looking like genuine title contenders.
Rafael Benitez represented Spain as a player for the Spanish Universities team, playing in the Universities World Cup, but has yet to have any involvement with the Spanish full national side, apart from letting them use his Spanish contingent of players at Liverpool. He harbours a desire to manage Spain at some point, but enjoys the rigours of club coaching too much at the moment to consider an international post.
Martin Skrtel is a defender for Slovakia and Liverpool in the English Premier League. He has come to be an integral member of both teams, who need his tough-tackling and willingness to put his head in where it hurts. He is an adept centre-back, who is good in the air and reasonably comfortable on the ball. When he was signed by Liverpool, Rafa Benitez pointed to his youthfulness and said that he expects Skrtel to be at Anfield for many years to come.
Martin Skrtel was born on 15th December 1984 in Handlova, which is now in Slovakia following the break up of Czechoslovakia. He had an uncomplicated up-bringing, with football being one of his few pleasures. The hardships he suffered helped him to become the no-nonsense defender that we know today.
Skrtel signed his first professional contract with his local side Prievidza, before moving up a step to Trencin in the top division of the Slovakian league. Some accomplished performances for the team, at centre-back, won him a move to Zenit St Petersburg. The fact that there were so many other Czechs and Slovakians helped him to find his feet, and Skrtel was soon inflicting damage on the opposition’s attackers. Zenit won the Russian league in 2007, and Skrtel was suddenly in demand – Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea were all linked with him.
Martin Skrtel arrived in Liverpool during the January 2008 transfer window, for a fee of £6.5m. Because the Russian season had finished some weeks prior, he was out of practice – making adapting to the English game even harder. He put in some hard-working performances, and won the Kop over with his sheer energy and concentration.
Skrtel competes with Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia for a spot in the centre of defence, but has proved himself to be invaluable.
Martin Skrtel made his international debut in May 2004, when he was just 20 years old. He had already represented his country at U-21 level, but his form and big move to Zenit triggered a promotion to the first-team. Slovakia failed to reach the World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008, but Skrtel is hopeful of leading his country to a major finals in the near future.
Sami Hyypia is a defender who plays for Finland and Liverpool in the English Premier League. His leadership qualities have shone through, even from a very young age, and he has proven himself as one of the best defenders in Europe over the years, with a UEFA Cup and Champions League winner’s medals. Though he is now used as experienced back-up at Liverpool, he remains Finland’s most capped player and captain.
Sami Hyypia was born on 7th October 1973, in Poorvoo, Finland. He is the son of two footballers – with his father playing professionally for a lower-league Finnish team and his mother also playing as a goalkeeper for fun. As a child he preferred ice-hockey, but with his parents obsessed by football, he soon took up a healthy interest in the beautiful game, and got quite good at it! Hyypia is a tall and commanding centre-back who has the experience and ability to take on the World’s best strikers, and come out on top.
Hyypia signed up with his Dad’s old team, Pallo-Peikot, when he was just 15, but it wasn’t until he moved to MyPa, aged 20, that he started to get noticed in footballing circles. Anyone who makes the first team at such a young age attracts the attention of Europe’s bigger clubs, and Sami was no exception – he was courted by Newcastle before moving across to Wilhem in Holland.
Within his four years at the Dutch club, Hyypia helped the team to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history, and also earned the respect of the fans, manager and his team-mates – he was made captain aged just 23. Four successful seasons at the Dutch club proved he had the ability and staying power to move on to bigger and better things.
Sami Hyypia arrived in Liverpool in July 1999, whilst Liverpool were trying to strengthen their squad to try and compete with Manchester United, who had just won the Champions League. As an unknown Finnish player, Hyypia didn’t cause much of a splash with the fans when he arrived for £2.6m, but he soon won a place in their hearts.
A fantastic partnership with Stephane Henchoz ensured that Hyypia was in the first team every week, and Liverpool enjoyed success – though have yet to win the Premier League. Sami helped Liverpool to lift the 2001 UEFA Cup and the 2005 Champions League trophies, often stepping in as captain when Redknapp and later Gerrard were absent.
As he has aged, Sami has lost some of his pace, allowing the younger defenders at Liverpool to steal a march on him and get in the first team. Hyypia is still a very reliable and experienced defender, and a great role-model for the younger defenders such as Agger and Insua. Having turned down big-money moves and first-team football, Sami seems set to stay at Liverpool until the end of his career.
Sami has been the vice-captain and captain of Finland for most of his international career, which began in 1992, when he was a nervy 19 year old. Although Finland have struggled to qualify for the major tournaments in World football, Hyypia has had his successes with the national side – scoring 5 goals along the way. He remains an important member of the Finland first team.
Xabi Alonso is a midfielder for Spain and Liverpool in the English Premier League. He plays as a deep-lying playmaker, often taking on a more defensive role to allow his more attacking central midfield partner to venture forwards in search of goals. He is a born leader, having taken on the Real Sociedad captaincy at just 19 years old, and was a first-team player throughout Spain’s victorious Euro 2008 campaign.
Xabi Alonso was born on 25th November 1981 in Tolosa, in the Basque area of Spain. His father was a professional footballer too, and won the Spanish league with Sociedad in 1981 and 1983, before uprooting the family to Barcelona for 6 years (where he added another championship winner’s medal to his collection). A return to San Sebastian in the Basque country followed, and Alonso settled down, playing footy for hours on the beach with his brother (Mikel Alonso, also a footballer these days) and friends – amongst whom was a young Mikel Arteta.
With his dad continuing as a football manager at teams nearby, Alonso was immersed in football from a young age, and knew he wanted to play at the top. He had the ability to do so, and won a contract with Real Sociedad at just 15years old.
Alonso made his debut for Real Sociedad as a substitute in the tail-end of the 99/00 season, aged just 18. He started the next season on loan at Eibar, with first-team opportunities limited. His father took over as manager of Sociedad for a short 10-game run whilst Alonso was on loan, but it was only after he had gone that Alonso won a place in the Sociedad squad.
Alonso’s determination and technical ability, as well as his willingness to get a foot in, at any cost, won him the respect of new boss John Toshack, who made him captain! Success at Sociedad followed, as the club climbed out of the relegation zone, stabilised in mid-table the next season, and then won the hearts and minds of Spain with a brilliant free-flowing season that saw them finish as runners-up.
Qualifying for the Champions League ensured Sociedad were able to add quality to their squad, but despite a run to the knock-out stages, Sociedad had a disappointing season and finished well short of winning a European spot. It was time for the 2003 Spanish Player of the Year to move on to bigger and better things.
On 20th August 2004, Xabi Alonso joined the Spanish revolution that was happening on Merseyside following the arrival of head-coach Rafa Benitez. Along with Luis Garcia, Alonso was supposed to bring some Iberian skill and technique to a club who had relied on blood and guts football for too long. Real Madrid had been interested but were unwilling to match Sociedad’s £13m valuation.
As Alonso started to settle, he was battling with Didi Hamann for the central midfield spot alongside Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. Alonso failed to make his favoured deep-lying playmaker role his own, but still did enough to win a Champions League winners medal in his first season at the club.
Having adapted to the pace of the English game, Alonso became the first-choice centre-midfielder, and started to be appreciated by the fans and Press for his pinpoint accuracy when passing as well as his long-range shots which almost always had the goalkeeper scrambling.
Injuries and competition for places took their toll on Alonso in the 07/08 season, with Benitez preferring Javier Mascherano in the centre of the park. The summer saw many rumours about where Xabi would be heading, but instead of running to Arsenal or a Spanish team, Alonso stayed and fought for a place in the team. An injury to Mascherano allowed him a chance to get back in the team, and he took it with both hands, helping Liverpool to challenge for the title for the first time in years.
Xabi Alonso made his debut in 2003, being trialled in midfield ahead of a disappointing Euro 2004 tournament. World Cup 2006 brought similar hopes and despairs, with Alonso now a fixed member of the first-team, and it seemed as if Spain would never be able to win a major tournament. That all changed at Euro 2008, when Fernando Torres and David Villa added a killer-instinct to a creative and solid side to lead the Spaniards to victory.
Kop Legends Video Rating: 5 / 5
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Martin Skrtel, Liverpool FC Slovakian centre back again. He is the electricity in the Liverpool defense, although Agger is the “brain”. They can be the best centre back pair in the near long term at Liverpool.
Video Rating: 4 / 5