Leverkusen - Appointed team manager on an intial caretaker basis for the final six games of last season, working in tandem with former U-19 coach Sascha Lewandowski, Sami Hyypiä is now one half of the coaching team aiming to take Bayer Leverkusen back into contention for a coveted Champions League place.
The former Bayer, Liverpool FC and Finland defensive stalwart spoke exclusively with bundesliga.com about the season ahead and the challenges of making the switch to coaching at the highest level.
bundesliga.com: How is the mood in the camp as we approach the new season?
Sami Hyypiä: I think the mood is OK and everyone is waiting for the season to start properly. We've had a long pre-season and the players have worked really hard, and now would be a good time to start the season.
bundesliga.com: How much has it helped having Sascha Lewandowski by your side?
Hyypiä: It's great having Sascha there. He has the experience of being a coach for years and he thinks about football in a similar way to me. Last season, when we were in charge for six games, it really showed me that it can work because otherwise we wouldn't be sitting here doing this interview. If I had seen at the end of last season that it wasn't going to work long-term then I wouldn't have taken the job, and I think that Sascha thinks of it in the same way.
bundesliga.com: Last season Leverkusen were inconsistent but still finished fifth. Surely you have to be aiming for the Champions League places now?
Hyypiä: Our target is to play European football again next season. When we do that, then we will have matched our target. Of course the Champions League would be nice; last season when the players played in the Champions League they realised how big it is and how great it is to play in the Champions League.
bundesliga.com: Leverkusen resisted big offers over the summer for Andre Schürrle and Lars Bender. Is that a sign of the club's ambition?
Hyypiä: Of course, if the club wants success then it can't sell all the best players every year. So it is a sign that the club wants success, and it is great for us in the coaching staff to keep those players. Andre and Lars can be important for the team this season; you always need good players.
bundesliga.com:What will the new signings bring to the team? (Junior Fernandes, Philipp Wollscheid, Carlinhos and Daniel Carvajal Ramos)
Hyypiä: I think that they are settling in well. My Spanish is not the best. My German is a little bit better than my Spanish, so hopefully the guys learn to speak German quickly so I can communicate with them a little bit more. I think on the pitch and in training they are settling in very well, and I think the squad is very good at the moment.
bundesliga.com: You spent your final years as a player with Leverkusen. What finally convinced you to move to the Bundesliga?
Hyypiä: Of course I followed the Bundesliga before. It's a good league, and it's a growing league. All the clubs are very stable and very well organised, so maybe that was one of the reasons for coming here. Obviously, after 10 years at Liverpool, I had opportunities to stay in England. For me, it would have been strange to stay in England and to put another shirt on, other than Liverpool, go to Anfield and play for the away team. So I decided to try something new, and today I'm very happy that I took the decision to come here and play for Leverkusen. The club trusts me enough to appoint me as a manager as well, so that is a great honour.
Jon Hartley reporting from the BayArena