Even though news trickled out four days ago, for some reason, Hyypia’s omission from the Champions League group stages has hit the national media today. It’s even prompted a statement from Benitez on the official site. I hadn’t planned on addressing it, and it still feels somewhat Captain Obvious to go over it now, but seeing all the articles pop up in my Google Reader isn’t doing my blood pressure much good.
As much as Hyypia’s renaissance over the last two seasons has helped the team, and no matter how valuable he’s been as a squad member, this decision was a no-brainer. It’s hard to write so bluntly about a Liverpool legend, but it’s the truth.
Liverpool doesn’t need to have four first-team center-backs on the CL roster. And thanks to the UEFA regulations that require four academy-trained and four association-trained players, there’s simply no place for Sami.
I’ve written about player quotas in the past. I’m obviously not the biggest fan of them, and given Liverpool’s financial situation while still trying to stay near the top of the Premier League, I’ve got no problem with the cosmopolitan make-up of the team.
Liverpool’s so stretched for English players that 17-year-old Steven Irwin and 18-year-old Martin Kelly are on the A-list, as is Spearing and Darby (both 19). None of them has seen time on the pitch outside of preseason. It makes you wonder why Liverpool sold Crouch and Finnan so willingly, and why Pennant was ostensibly on the market all summer long (oh right, they need the money). But as said throughout the summer, it does help explain the pursuit of Gareth Barry.
At least the UEFA regulations are succeeding in getting younger players on the bench, if not on the field, but it’s at the expense of someone like Sami. Hyypia's grievance should be with UEFA, not Liverpool or Benitez.
I do feel bad for Hyypia. He’s been a fantastic servant for the club for nearly 10 years now, and will fully deserve the testimonial when he gets it. But if it comes down to carrying four center-backs or having a striker like Ngog in the squad, I’ll side with the striker.
We’ve seen it all too often in the past. Knock on wood, but chances are, Liverpool will be fine in defense. However, there have been more than enough occasions where Liverpool’s needed to bring more attacking firepower off the bench because the team’s struggling in the final third.