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Ryan Babel: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?


Marco van Basten told us Ryan Babel might just be the next Thierry Henry. And there have been some instances to suggest the 22-year-old could be on the path to greatness:

Babel’s 40 yard blast against Chelsea to give Liverpool a breath of hope in last year’s Champions League semi-final.

His arched rocket past Edwin van Der Sar in September to give Liverpool their first win over Manchester United since 2004.

And his header on target followed by a sharp rebound to put Saturday’s match against West Ham out of reach.

At times Babel shows the dexterity, vision and clever movement that Henry radiated endlessly during the Frenchman’s tenure in England. But for Babel these moments come in limited quantity.

For every instance when he turns a defender and bursts into space, there are a dozen when he twists himself into a cul de sac and loses the ball. For every instance when he makes a wonderblast on target, there are countless times when his selfishness forces him to ignore a teammate who could be in on goal from the simplest of passes.

Watching him during his first season, I thought Babel would come into full being in a year or so. He was young. He was adapting to the EPL. It would take time. I could see from his first league appearance (when he was subbed on against Aston Villa in August 2007) he had loads of promise. There was speed and wiliness just waiting to burst forth and van Basten’s Henry comparison seemed viable.

This season, there were moments when Babel showed signs of maturing. He seemed more settled in the league and was passing more when previously he would have charged forward, hogging the ball.

But despite continued signs of promise, Babel has yet to show any signs of blooming into the next superstar. By his own admission, Babel cannot cling to the “well, he’s still young” excuse for much longer. He needs to show his true worth every chance he gets.

A bit part of the problem is Babel hasn’t had enough first team experience this season to enjoy a solid platform on which to grow. Rafa Benitez likes to use Babel primarily as a substitute. And while Babel’s fresh pace and energy make a great weapon to bring on against tiring defenses, giving the lad periodic 20 minute windows to try to score a goal is not the best recipe for his development.

Van Basten has made similar criticism and thinks Babel should have stayed in Holland longer rather than warming Liverpool’s bench.

But Babel could still have something to offer Liverpool. For the Reds to truly challenge for the title over the next few years, they’ll need to use the upcoming transfer windows to chase after the depth of Manchester United and Chelsea. Babel may be among the players sold to raise funds for incoming talent, but Liverpool would be wise to maintain a collection of versatile players. Men who can fill more than one role. Babel can play as a winger or as a striker, and though he won’t be a first choice Albert Riera or Fernando Torres, his utility in two areas helps Liverpool make the squad deeper. Two for the price of one.

And while Gerrard and Torres are unequivocally Liverpool’s top hitmen, if either of them go down with injury next season, Babel can come on as the first striker (as he did when Torres came off on Saturday) or in support.

Hitting the goal against the Hammers makes me wonder what his future will be. I would have thought he was on his way out. Now I’m not sure. The kid has a place. If he gets the chance to play regularly, he could still prove to be a good buy for the Reds. Babel needs to have patience with Rafa and Rafa needs to have confidence in Babel.

Did the coach bring him on in London to reveal his confidence in Babel? Or was it to show him off to potential buyers?

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  1. Liverpool

    May 23, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I think if benitez is going to get david villa or david silva then he can sell babel but only after he gets one of the 2 because if torres gets injured then there is no cover.

    So Benitez should sell babel only after he gets some cover for torres,gerrard and kuyt.

    Because all 3 of them are in the starting 11.!

  2. Ben

    May 15, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I am one of the few strong believers that Ryan Babel deserves time on the pitch upon which he can use to develop as a player. Over the past two seasons he has shown us glimpses of his class, many people may argue that these are one off flukes but how can you possibly expect a player to provide constant brilliance when he is given no time to adjust to his surroundings and expected to just run on and torture defences?!

    In conclusion i believe that Rafa would be very unwise to sell Ryan because he has so much to give to us, and i will be williing to bet that if he went he would become one of the worlds best players simply by being given a bit more freedom!

  3. brn442

    May 12, 2009 at 1:22 am

    I will have to agree as well. Babel seems to lack that quality beyond the first touch in terms of heads up and link play but more importantly, I don’t see that consistent goal scoring and finishing potential. Henry floundered on the wing at Juventus but he became a deadly finisher at Arsenal. Yorke was converted from a winger to centre-forward At Villa, it can be done and Babel is young. I think Liverpool needs another 2 strikers regardless.

  4. Thomas

    May 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Henry took a while to blossom too.

    No doubt Babel has the physical tools and talent to be a great player.

    But as Matt pointed out, his lack of vision and footballing sense will be his undoing.

    At the low levels I have played at, I’ve seen plenty of kids who are like this. Sure they have a penchant for flair, and sometimes will make your jaw drop with bits of skill. But then you factor in the simple things they screw up. Or you see them throw out the unnsessecary flick or trick instead of making the easy pass. And you start to wonder if they really are as strong of a contributer as people would like you to believe.

  5. matt

    May 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    While Babel might have a Henry-ian (or, dare say, Bergkamp-ian) first touch, and occasional flashes of striking quality, he clearly lacks footballing vision – he cannot see beyond his first touch and he cannot see the movement off the ball for where it will be. This leads to getting boxed in, striding directly into defenses, and errant passes. I welcome his departure from Liverpool.

  6. jd

    May 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    i think Babel was another victim of the Robbie Keane debacle. Had Benitez and Parry and the owners not gotten themselves involved in the “Keane Affair” then Babel might have had a chance to partner Kuyt in Torres absence early in the season. It could have been his chance to “mature” with consistent appearances.

    Benitez might do well to let him lead the line in a “cup side” next year where he can get some playing time, and Nando can rest.

  7. tyduffy

    May 11, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I think Babel will end up a solid player. I’m not sure that Liverpool is the right club for him, though. Benitez likes to have strict control, whereas I think Babel needs more of a free role to function.

  8. Sean Atkinson

    May 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    A lot of people comment that Ryan Babel needs more of a run in the first team to show what he can do but, Rafa gets to see him everyday in training. Perhaps his lack of playing time is a result of his inability to stand out during training sessions.

  9. Punto

    May 11, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    sell sometimes u cannot fit into the coach style…look at Walcott…even now few years at Arsenal he still isnt first choice…up to him….the way Babel is going maybe he should go back to Ajax…unless Raf a uses him as ss or wg then maybe he can do some trick

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