Hyypia hoping to make it third time lucky for Brighton
There is no struggle so desperate at the scramble for Premier League promotion. Brighton and Hove Albion have come so close to achieving this, but in each of the last two seasons have fallen short at the penultimate hurdle.
Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia both endured the misery of losing in the Championship play-off semi-finals, though those disappointments resulted in their respective careers taking different directions. It is now the charge of former Bayer Leverkusen boss and Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia (he was sacked in April) to see the Seagulls soar into the top-flight.
Coral make Brighton 14/1 to win the second-tier next term, and that may well be the only way they can get out of that division. Albion are becoming more and more reminiscent of Cardiff City under Dave Jones because of their failures at the business end – cynics labelled the Bluebirds choke artists.
Under Malky Mackay, however, the Welsh capital club laid such ghosts to rest and took the Championship title. The subsequent farce of their Premier League campaign is not relevant; what is, however, is a mentality must have crept into that dressing room, which made settling for a play-off place unthinkable.
Hyypia would do well to set similarly high standards as he embarks on his new role at south coast side Brighton. A three-year contract handed to the Finn, who delighted the Anfield Kop for a decade between 1999 and 2009 with his defensive displays, suggests the board are willing to be patient, but the Seagulls boss faces some tough decisions.
First and foremost, what will Hyypia make of the Hispanic flavour to the squad he has inherited? Forward flop David Rodriguez, and midfield pair Andrea Orlandi and David Lopez, are all out of contract at the Amex this summer.
Like full backs Bruno Saltor and Inigo Calderon, they had plenty in common with Hyypia’s predecessors Garcia and Poyet. If the Finn opts for a departure from this policy, then it could be adios to them.
Brighton’s reliance on top scorer Leonardo Ulloa could become even greater. As thing stand, four of the five players that came after him in the club goal charts for 2013/14 won’t be there next term. Ashley Barnes has thrown in his lot with Burnley, which turned out to be a wise decision in January as he will play Premier League football at Turf Moor.
Several loan players, like left-sided Stephen Ward and Manchester United youngster Jesse Lingard, may not be attracted back to the Seagulls now. The former’s parent club Wolves sealed a return to the Championship, so the Republic of Ireland international may be needed at Molineux once more.
A Liverpool stalwart such as Hyypia is likely to get short shrift if he calls up Old Trafford in search of youngsters to take on a temporary basis, but Brendan Rodgers may be more obliging. Punters should not be surprised if Anfield academy products are wearing the blue and white stripes of Brighton next season.
Losing Seagulls Player of the Season Matt Upson on a free to promoted Leicester City, despite his advancing years, was a big blow in defence. Might someone like Tiago Ilori be worth considering as a replacement for him, as Hyypia helps the Reds develop a player with huge potential?
Although Adam Chicksen can cover left back now that Ward’s loan spell at the Amex is over, Jack Robinson could get a second season in the Championship. He experienced a challenging campaign with Blackpool, but made as many assists as any other player behind Tom Ince at Bloomfield Road.
Away from player recruitment, Hyypia seems keen to work with the existing backroom staff, and was attracted by both Brighton’s ambition and their facilities. He won the Champions League, UEFA Cup and other domestic trophies at Liverpool but, if the Finn is to match that former facet, then the only silverware he will prize is lifting that Championship crown.