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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Strange Case of Ryan Babel

Ryan Babel

By Patrick McLoughlin.

Ryan Babel joined Liverpool in July 2007 from Dutch club Ajax. After coming up through the youth ranks there he quickly established himself as a first teamer and earning himself a reputation as one of the brightest talents in Europe, the pacey winger was publicised by Dutch legends such as Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard as one of the best players the country has produced, comparisons to Thierry Henry were not uncommon and before long Ryan Babel was tipped to be potentially the best player in the world; uncannily quick, a powerful physique and an eye for goal were all characteristics that combined to create a very exciting player.

But all this can be found on his Wikipedia page, the real Ryan Babel remains a mystery, a player which can produce anything from the sublime to the ridiculous during any given 90 minutes.

Babel’s transfer to Liverpool must have been somewhat of a surprise to most Reds fans; he was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal that summer and he seemed to be a perfect Wenger player; technically gifted but still young and underdeveloped, it would have been the transfer that made perfect sense and within a few years Babel would be polished into another Arsenal wonder kid.

However, it was Liverpool that stumped up the £14 million which eventually took him to Anfield and after been given the number 19 shirt he quickly began to show what all the fuss was about. His first goal was against Derby, an intelligent faint left two defenders on the ground as he slotted the ball into the net, further goals would follow in both the League and Champions League almost grabbing a hat-trick against Besiktas and scoring the winner against Manchester United at Anfield. The 2008/2009 season was an undoubted success, although primarily used as a substitute it was only a matter of time until he established himself as a regular and was voted the fans Young Player of the Year, recognition for a genuine talent.

However, the initial promise of Ryan Babel was not followed up the next season. After missing the Euro 2008 finals through ankle ligament damage his career seemed to slow down and became a regular starter on the Liverpool bench, his frustration for all to see on his many Twitter rants.

Although still being picked regularly for Holland Rafa Benitez did not show the same faith in him as the national team and was limited to cameo appearances in the last 10 minutes of certain games, Benitez claiming that Babel was neglecting his defensive duties, a fair criticism for a player who has been known to go missing during games. Nevertheless, Benitez’s coaching style must surely be analysed here, Babel is obviously a confidence player, someone who needs to be playing every week and given more than 10 minutes to make an impact, a difficult task for any players, Benitez’s man management and communication skills have recently been blasted by fellow winger Albert Riera and leaves Reds fans wondering just how good Babel could be if only wearing an Arsenal shirt instead.

Babel has been quite public in his determination to succeed at Liverpool and although he has flirted with leaving the club in previous transfer windows he still remains on Merseyside, it seems that his frustration is down to Benitez’s insistence that he starts on the bench or on the wing, Babel himself claiming that he is a natural forward, a terrible waste of a player who at 23 years-old already has nearly 40 international caps.

However, in Benitez’s defence it is sometimes easy to see why Babel starts on the bench. This season, away at Lyon Babel scored a goal which is contender for goal of the decade let alone goal of the season; a stunning 25-yard shot that left the Lyon defence stunned, however, a few minutes later shot again only this time to hit the corner flag. If there were ever a game which summed up the player it would be this, reaching the dizzying heights of world-class stardom then plummeting down to the muddy reality of Sunday league.

But there is still hope with the enigmatic Dutchman; he continues to show glimpses of his true potential and in recent weeks has managed to capitalise on Albert Riera’s absence, taking his place on the left wing and stringing together some very good performances ending with a harsh red card in Lisbon against Benfica.

His recent run of starts has perhaps shown Benitez that he is able to perform when given the confidence through starts and more time on the field. It seems that Babel’s future is very much unwritten, on the fringe of the first team but with time on his side he now seems to have adapted to English football and the challenge of squad rotation, more than likely to make the Dutch World Cup squad may be South Africa will be the perfect platform from him to finally explode and show the world his illusive talent.

What do you think of Ryan Babel? Please leave your comments below…..

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