After three-and-a-half years on Merseyside, Ryan Babel has finally decided to part ways with Liverpool and join Bundesliga outfit TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on a two-and-a-half year deal, keeping the Dutchman in Germany until the summer of 2013.
In what seems to be a dreamland ago, Babel signed on for the Reds with high hopes of carving his name into the old Kop record books alongside some of the true Liverpool greats, after an inspirational performance in The Netherlands‘ U-21 championships, winning the Man of the Match award and scoring in their 4-1 victory over Serbia in the final.
A Dutch Super Cup winner with Ajax in the 2006-07 season, Babel was playing some compelling football in the Dutch capital. With Arsenal and Newcastle both peeping their noses in on the 21-year-old at the time, the youngster signed a new 3 year contract with the club in February – making it clear that he was there to stay.
However, as we all learnt, this was not the case.
Babel joined Liverpool on a five year contract for a reported £11.5 million, was handed the number 19 shirt and presented to the Kop alongside Yossi Benayoun. The Dutchman went on to make 146 appearances and scored 22 goals for the Reds, although only appeared 65 times in the starting XI.
There was no doubt that Babel was the next best thing, someone Liverpool concede to be what they consider Dani Pacheco or Chris Mavinga as today – an eventual star for the club, who will turn into a combination of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres within a season or two of top-flight football. People began comparing Babel to the next Thierry Henry when he arrived, but as we eventually found out, it simply was not meant to be.
The old case of Ryan Babel seems to have reopened more often than actual transfer windows themselves, representing possibly one of the most troubled and controversial stays at Anfield of all time. Not only did Babel’s prolonged time on the bench ever cease, but it never gave supporters the chance to actually see what he was really made of. In the past he has been criticised for his lack of commitment, not displaying any real desire to get properly stuck in or chase down balls, yet on other occasions he has been praised for exactly the opposite.
The Dutchman has received his fair share of criticism during his stay on Merseyside, but it essential to point out the importance of his entire campaign with Liverpool. Babel needed enough first team playing time, debatably a season or two, to establish himself as a regular player. There were definitely hints of his grounded talent during his stay at Anfield, demonstrated by a variation of slick goals, such as Liverpool’s sixth goal in their 8-0 drubbing of Besiktas, and absolute belters when the time really mattered – Babel’s scorcher put the Reds one-nil up in a vital must-win game against Lyon in the Champions League. Liverpool drew 1-1 thanks to an extra-time equaliser from Lisandro, but it was the fact that Ryan Babel was a player who, when in the right mindset, could turn the game around and take the entire weight of the situation onto his shoulders and produce something spectacular.
Most definitely the frustrating for Liverpool fans to see is players such as Lucas Leiva play regularly. The Brazilian has been lounging around for far too long at Anfield, and represents the core problem of what’s going on behind the scenes on Merseyside. When Rafa signed the youngster from Gremio, he claimed that he was “looking forward to seeing him score goals for Liverpool in the future”, but so far he has only scored one Premier League goal in close to a hundred appearances for the club.
Is Lucas Leiva a match-winner? A leader? Someone who can influence others and push them to perform? No.
Could Ryan Babel have become a fiery regular for the Reds? Could he have helped Fernando Torres in Liverpool’s most recent times? Most definitely.
It all depends how you interpret the situation. Obviously, I am not the one on Melwood training ground every day watching Babel train, but some of his performances have demonstrated (*cough* Aston Villa game in December *cough*) that he was indeed good enough to perform regularly amongst England’s elite. He went from being an exciting prospect for the club, to Babel the eventual impact-sub, or even Babel the key exchange player in a transfer deal – not that Luis Suarez jumps to mind or anything.
However, it must be said that Babel’s antics off the pitch hardly pleaded his case for consistent first team football, making unnecessary comments on Twitter for being dropped against Stoke. We all know from the past that Rafael Benitez does not accept criticism for his decisions, as we have seen with the likes of Albert Riera (remember that lad who signed from Espanol in 2008) – who told the public about Benitez’s failure to ever discuss issues with players face-to-face. He didn’t last much longer, and joined Olympiacos for around £4 million in the summer of 2010.
Babel’s situation was very similar. Despite being docked two weeks wages of £120,000, it was becoming desperately obvious the ex-Ajax man was growing tired of his role at the club, that of the ‘wasted talent’. It is almost a shame to see someone who has/had Ryan’s potential leave the club.
It all seems as if Babel’s career revolved around misfortune, or possibly not given the chance a player of his calibre quite deserves, or maybe he was just in the hands of the wrong people who prioritised others over a player who was dubbed too good for the reserves yet not quite good enough for the first team at Liverpool.
Potentially a great winger/striker for the club, but remember that he is only 24 years of age and a few good seasons could see him back up with Europe’s elite within a couple of years.
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