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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…..



  1. londonred4life

    April 7, 2010 at 9:43 am

    this kid has it all like the article suggest pace to burn and with the right coaching could be a real star but no rafa is intent on ruin his career if he dont rate the kid let him go so he can get on with his career and develop elsewhere.

    bad man management skills

  2. Tony

    April 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    “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. ”
    So when Torres misses sitters is he a Sunday league player?

  3. Greg

    April 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Almost without exception Babel fails to impress when he’s given a start, but he often looks dangerous coming on for the last 20 minutes against tired defenders. Is it really any wonder he’s normally a sub?

    Rafa had the chance to sell Babel in January – Babel wasn’t too keen on Birmingham’s offer, but if Rafa had wanted him gone it wouldn’t have taken too much to push him out the door. So Rafa obviously still rates him – whether it’s because he can get more money for him in he summer or because he thinks Babel will turn out to be a fine player is unclear at this stage!

  4. jsc

    April 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    UMMM £14M, nope he cost £11m, i think your confusing cisse’s price with babel. But babel’s not good enough, maybe in a slower league like italy he’ll do better. Babel will be kept by rafa so he can do deal in exchange for turan or suarez plus cash, also babel at the world cup might do well and his price will go up.

  5. Damo

    April 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    The words you are looking for are ‘pacy’, unless you think he looks like a character out of Dawson’s Creek and ‘feint’, unless you mean that he actually fainted and the shock of it caused two defenders to fall over.

  6. JCB

    April 7, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    “…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.”

    I’m sorry but its comments like this that give the game away… On MOTD Lee Dixon said that even Babel looked like a “world beater” against Sunderland – like you he clearly doesn’t go to the game! As a kopite I am always hopeful that he will do well for us. Sometimes he pops up with a good goal. But for the majority of the time he is useless – as he was against Sunderland. At times it was shocking. We won well, despite of him. And I will always try and give him the benefit of the doubt. Yes he has pace, and he even looks exciting on the ball. BUT how often does he actually have control of the ball? Sometimes he is lucky, the ball will bobble off his knee or off a defender and he will go on to set something up or score. But most of the time he is very poor. And when we don’t have the ball it is like playing with 10 players. His defensive play (mainly his footballing brain) is just schoolboy stuff at times. He makes me hold my head in my hands! And this is a very common view on the Kop – trust me!

    • Patrick McLoughlin

      April 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      To JCB,

      The object of this artcile was not to make Babel out to be world-class because I agree with you, he’s not. However, I do think that he has definite potential, he is sloppy sometimes and is rough round the edges but I feel that given the chance he can turn into something special, whether this needs to be a new manager or a new club we’ll have to wait and see.

      P.S. Lee Dixon does not dictate my opinion

  7. Damo

    April 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    How long can you have potential before you come good? Does he not play in 5 a sides, has he not trained since he was a kid, gets a few games here and there? His control should be there by now, of the ball and his temper. He hasn’t matured as a player or a man. I didn’t think his red was harsh at all, it’s all schoolboy stuff with him. He needs a good woman!

    • Patrick McLoughlin

      April 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      ‘He needs a good woman’…..brilliant. I never thought about it like that. Also, I didn’t realised just how much he provokes opinion, for a squad player he sure does get a reaction.

  8. Shane

    April 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Ryan Babel is frustrating to say the least… watching the Lyon game showed what he can do when he is on his game. His situation is not disimilar to that of Nani’s at United. At times brilliant, but at times his decision making warrents the “head in hands” scenario mentioned above. The difference is United have other players that can cope with the enigma. Liverpool dont. If Nani has a bad game there is Valencia, Giggs and Park that are seasoned campaigners that can replace him; plus the youngsters coming through – Obertan and Diouf, that look like they could do a job against the lesser teams.

    In my opinion Liverpool to not have a good enough squad to afford luxury players such as Ryan Babel, who may only produce a good performance every 5 games. His competition comes from Riera (who also lacks consistancy) Maxi Rodruiguez (unproven) and laughably Nabil El Zahr (that is another argument altogether).

    If he does go so S.A (which im sure he will) his price will rise. Possibly paving the way for Liverpool to recoup the investment they made and spend it on one, maybe two players that will offer more to the team. Joe Cole fits the bill perfectly, although it is doubtful that Chelsea would let him go to a rival.

    What ever is going on behind the scenes at Liverpool is undoubtedly having an effect on Benitez’s transfer policy. But if I was him I would sell to the highest bidder. Liverpool need a strong core of players to build the team around, its common knowledge that Liverpool rely heavily on Cara, Gerrard and Torres. The first two have had poor seasons by their own standards and I think that is why liverpool find themselves in this precarious situation. Once they have achieved the spine in the team that they can afford to take a gamble of players like Babel. This summer is big for Liverpool, they are either going to go one way or the other.

  9. pj

    April 7, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I feel Benitez is to blame for Babels situation, i think if Babel had signed fr Arsenal he would be twice the player he is similar to RVP but i guess we will never know.

  10. Phil Dickinson

    April 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Ryan is definitely a player with a lot of ability and I still think he has the potential to develop into a very dangerous international footballer.

    The problem is though, he’s the kind of player that occasionally needs a careful kick up the backside when his mind isn’t on the job, and occasionally needs an arm around his shoulder from the manager to boost his confidence. And, we all know that under Benitez that sort of careful man management isn’t forthcoming.

    Babel is easily distracted and psychologically fragile. He doesn’t have that raw passion for the game that a player like Wayne Rooney has. And Rafa’s management style doesn’t help Babel overcome those obstacles, where another manager might. Rafa is too distant to deal with a player like Ryan Babel.

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