The news that Ryan Babel wants, or has suggested, that he should go back to Ajax, his former club, in the January 2010 window isn’t a surprise. Said Babel
“There have been a lot of things promised but they haven’t been followed up. I would get to play for more minutes and have more chances but, after the first defeat, I lost my place. Half a season at Ajax with a view to the World Cup wouldn’t be a bad idea. I can add something to their squad. Loaning me out was not an option in the summer. Now we have agreed to review the situation in January”
Babel was signed by Rafa in the summer of 2007 for around £13m since then questions have been asked. There are two main ones.
Have we signed a young player with great potential that, with a little nurturing, could in time turn into one of the clubs greats? However, as Babel’s tenure unravelled more and more were asking whether we’d signed someone who was underachieving and couldn’t, for one reason or another, realise that potential. To this day I can’t work out which one is going to be correct and the various theories put forward to explain where Babel is at the moment don’t help.
The first is that he has simply has failed to, or is yet to, live up to his potential. Rafa has used him sparingly at times. Is he nurturing him or simply believing to he is not ready or good enough to be regular first teamer? When he’s had the chance perhaps Babel has felt under pressure to make the most of it, to make his presence felt. The outcome has been a curate’s egg. Some of his performances have been excellent and some anonymous the latest being the “no show” in the opening game against Spurs.
The second is that Babel hasn’t been given a chance, a fair crack of the whip. All too often Rafa has thrown him on for the last thirty or twenty minutes of a game presumably as some kind of impact player who can use his pace on tiring defenders? Rather than be given time to “bed in” and prove himself via a long run in the side he’s had to make do with scraps, cameos, fleeting opportunities. Equally there’s a school of thought that thinks that even when he’s started a game he’s played out of position, wide instead of in the centre? Perhaps with hindsight Rafa’s Liverpool was the wrong choice of club for Babel? Would he have played more games for say Arsenal, who where also linked with him at the time we signed him, where Arsene Wenger seems more willing to blood younger players?
Then there is the man himself. Does Babel have the eye for the main chance, the desire, hunger, determination and confidence to make it hard for Rafa not to pick him?
I guess you could cherry pick from all three theories. One does occasionally wonder if Rafa is handling him right but equally he can’t be expected to carry passengers in the team or have unlimited patience. Rafa has to choose the strongest side available. If Babel isn’t on form then he should not expect to be picked and should knuckle down and try force his way back into the side. Every player wants to play but Babel is deluding himself if he feels that complaining in this way will make Rafa pick him.
The argument for suggesting that he is wasted in wide position has some merit but what does it say about Babel’s versatility? I feel there is a case for bringing Babel into the centre to play alongside Torres. Their collective pace would create real problems. However the bond between Gerrard and the Spaniard in that part of the pitch appears to be unshakable and unbreakable at present. To accommodate Babel Gerrard would need to drop back and fill the space vacated by Alonso. Perhaps this might be the last throw of the dice for Rafa regarding Babel, the final option? However he is unlikely to take it at present.
Of Babel himself for all his comments today he has been professional. He’s made conciliatory and pragmatic noises about not being picked. He’s acknowledged that he’s still raw and needs to be more consistent and, despite his words yesterday, that he’s learnt from Rafa. However, with the World Cup looming it is understandable that, having already featured this season, he is desperate to secure regular football? Yet who is to say he will get that at Ajax and is the inference that Liverpool are treating him unfairly? His suggestion that he return to Ajax rather than rise to challenge at Anfield is hopefully not an indication of mindset and determination of the man? On the other hand if he does go on loan we might benefit in the long term through his performances in a red shirt or financially if we eventually decide to move him on?
So where does Babel go from here? As suggested above it’s difficult to say. He still remains an enigma and a frustrating one at that. Fans are desperate for him to do well, I’m always pleased when he’s picked thinking that maybe this is the time he’s really going to show us what he’s made of. Babel is obviously desperate to do well however, somehow, for reasons that can’t be fully clarified, it isn’t working as well as it could.
How long can it go on for?