When former Liverpool and Finland central defender Sami Hyypiä retired from playing football in 2011, he said that his plans to get his coaching license would mean 100% or nothing. He must have made a good impression, he was appointed caretaker manager in April 2012 after the sacking of Robin Dutt, and the club finished the Bundesliga season in fifth place.
Lord of the manor
During the summer of 2012, he was appointed as full-time manager, sharing the responsibilities with coach Sascha Lewandowski (Hyypiä has not yet qualified to be a sole manager). A bold move, but early indications are that it was the right move. Ten matches into the league season, Leverkusen are currently in fourth place - nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich, albeit after a poor start which saw the side lose at promoted Eintracht Frankfurt and champions Dortmund.
The season defining moment so far has been a win at the Allianz Arena, a first win at Bayern since 1989 (which The Guardian's Rafael Honigstein reported as the lifting of a curse). A 2-1 win was a tremendous result, but also vital at that stage.
A promising start in the Europa League has also seen wins in Rosenborg and Vienna, but the club's ambition is to return to the Champions League, and Hyypiä is aware of that. In an interview with Bundesliga.com in pre-season, he acknowledged that the players got a taste last year, and want a return. Having kept Andre Schürrle and Lars Bender at the club, they are well placed.
Taking a training session
And so Leverkusen are now unbeaten in seven league games, in the last 16 of the DFB Pokal (where they travel to Wolfsburg) and are well placed to progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League. Some Liverpool forums have already championed the name of their former captain as a future manager, and he was very diplomatic when asked about the possibility when at Anfield for a friendly in August, when he praised Brendan Rodgers to the hilt.
Hyypiä is starting show that Germany is becoming a hotbed of young Finnish talent, and not just on the pitch. It's hard to imagine that he'd consider a return to Finland at this stage, but he's only 39, and has proved that the obvious step isn't the one he'll choose.
Eye on the ball