Club Focus – Liverpool – Babel crows for return to homeland

A new name has emerged in rap in recent months. Following in the footsteps of legendary Liverpool winger and rap superstar John Barnes, the Reds’ Ryan Babel has taken to the studio. The former Ajax man recently collaborated with top (apparently) UK hip-hop artist Sway on the latter’s third studio album and returned a modest effort for his debut in the industry. But if his new-found career off the field should mirror his current one on it, don’t expect to be hearing much of MC Babel in the future.

The Dutchman’s flow hasn’t flipped on the pitch for a while. He had a disappointing 2008/09 – one of the few negatives in an excellent season collectively – and he was anonymous on his only start of the current campaign at White Hart Lane on the opening day. This coming after an encouraging debut season in 2007/08 when, after signing as a 21-year-old, he featured 49 times and scored 10 goals in a campaign that hinted at more to come from the £11.5m capture from Ajax – Rafa Benitez’ fifth most expensive signing during his reign. After an ankle injury kept him out of the Dutch squad for Euro 2008, his progress seems to have stalled. Admittedly given fewer chances because of the signings and form of Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun, Babel simply hasn’t risen to the challenge or to the calls of his manager to press for a first-team berth.

The Dutchman’s distress, coupled with his initial omission from his national squad for next week’s clash with Scotland, (he’s back in now because of injury to Ibrahim Afellay) has led to him pondering a loan move back to Ajax in January. Babel has said: “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.”

That most Reds fans wouldn’t be sorry to see him go tells you just how he’s been performing. It was wrong to single him out and blame him for the Tottenham defeat but the player didn’t do himself any favours, and hasn’t for some time. Lightning quick when running without the ball, Babel never looks as comfortable with it, always relying on his pace rather than skills to beat his man. There remains the question of just what his best position is, with the man himself frequently claiming that he sees himself as a central striker, something that anyone who has seen his recent performances on the left of midfield may well agree with.

The frustration with Babel is that there is an excellent player lurking within him. He’s exceptionally quick – he troubled Glen Johnson like no-one else has done this season in the recent friendly with England – he’s capable of scoring vital goals – his Kop end winner against Manchester United a year ago was the catalyst for Liverpool’s title challenge – and he can cross a good ball when he feels like it – witness his delivery for Dirk Kuyt’s vital winner against Standard Liege last year, or the assist for Steven Gerrard against Real Madrid.

If he spent a little less time working on his lyrics and a bit more on his football then he could still resurrect an Anfield career. More enigma than Eminem – it’s time for the real Ryan Babel to please stand up.

Liverpool Club Focus

The People of Thailand & Singapore vs. Xabi Alonso – July 29
Should nobody expect a Spanish acquisition? – August 5
High hopes – August 12
False start – August 18
Plenty of bets, but no slip – August 21
Three games, two defeats and one big problem – August 25
It gets no easier – August 27
Smells like team spirit – September 1
Babel crows for return to homeland – September 4

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