Hello my friends…. A great article on Ryan Babel by our “talent expert”, Alex.
June 2005, the world cup Under 20 was on its way right here in the Netherlands and we were enthusiastic. As usual, we had some very promising young players on the way, they would be the next superstars of Oranje, of the world, all they needed was time. Time they got but many of those stars in our eyes failed to shine.
Today I will be introducing my concept contribution to the blog and focusing on one recently receiving renewed attention on our blog; Ryan Babel.
Who were those ‘stars-to-be’. To give you an idea, the selection included familiar names like Kenneth Vermeer, Urby Emanuelson, Ron Vlaar, Hedwiges Maduro and Ryan Babel. But how about current Bosnian international and ‘balvirtuoos’ Haris Medunjanin, reliable Dwight Tiendalli (now at Swansea), half a twin Jeroen Drost, former mister overweight Collins John and Prince Rajcomar… Anyway, it is striking how few of the talents from then actually delivered on their promise. A headline from the time: ‘Who are the stars of under-20?’ revealed our poorly hidden optimism. The absolute star of the team was Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, but in his shadows, the tower of Babel began its construction. From the grounds of Ajax’ youth academy and the Oranje selections came a bright young star striker named Ryan Babel. Already a first team international (scoring a goal on his debute vs Romania), Babel proved one of the promises of the future, a classy striker to be like many before him. Described as a modern striker: fast, agile, handy, and able to get past a man AND score a goal.
Coach Marco van Basten first picked him for the big Oranje. Indeed he still has all the attributes to make it big, nothing has changed there. Since the U-20 world cup (where oranje stranded in a quarter final penalty series) his star kept shining bright, where Quincy and Collins John stayed in their relative poor positions at respectively Arsenal (followed by Spartak Moscow and Al-Sadd ) and Fulham (with loans to several clubs). Babel made his way into Ajax 1 and Oranje 1. Despite being marked as a central striker, Babel was most frequently used as a winger, never really nailing down a spot, the talent was there, but it never blossomed and more often than we would’ve liked, he made a very uninspired impression. He continued to play regularly and then there it was: the U-21 European Championship. Foppe de Haan was our coach and Babel the main man. Our Frisian tactician Foppe devised a surprising squad and a peculiar line-up with an unconventional striker duo. Long time hot-shot Ryan Babel was partnered to nobody Maceo Rigters, a combination that proved most successful, earning unknown Rigters the title of tournament topscorer with Babel shining as the shadow striker, the ‘aangever’. The partnership needed time to grow but culminated by a superb performance in the final where Babel dished out subtle passes left and right, grabbing a few goals himself during the tournament.
Finally he showed what most of us knew, that he had the potential to be a class player. Then and there the success story got its dream ending when the team grabbed the title in an impressing display of football excellence, crushing Serbia 4-1 in Groningen’s Euroborg stadium. It didn’t take long for the big clubs to take notice, having been on international scouting lists for years. The 20-year-old Amsterdam striker made his way overseas, being snapped up by Liverpool FC for a phenomenal sum of close to 18 million euro’s. It proved an unsatisfactory move for the self-proclaimed part time rapper as Rafa Benitez often kept him on the bench. In fact, the impressive performance of young oranje was mostly down to a well balanced team where the two strikers formed the end of the line, enjoying a plentiful supply through some very dynamic and productive wingers (Drenthe and De Ridder), making them the final link in the chain. At Liverpool, the few rare occasions where he was indeed on the pitch, saw him being employed as a winger, and only on occasion in the strikers role he always desired to be. On a few instances, the brilliant striker in him showed. With several trademark goals cutting inside from the wing, pulling the trigger from a distance.
Most notably though his sublime goal versus Derby County. (Putting two Derby-players on the wrong foot in one move)
Roy Hodgson’s arrival at Liverpool proved of little help for his career and a move out seemed inevitable. A move to Hoffenheim was on its way, the Bundesliga was the place where Babel hoped to revive his career. His disappointing German fairytale soon ended when the root of his career knocked on the door. Ajax brought back the lost Godenzoon for just a fraction of the price they sold him for. Coach Frank de Boer managed to get the striker to buy off his own contract and make the move back to Eredivisie for free. At Ajax, Babel seems to prove once again that however talented he may be, a seeming lack of consistency and ability to rise above a few rare moments of brilliance render him unfit for the international top. Ajax may have earned themselves 18 million because of Foppe de Haan’s managing skills. It seems the striking talent indeed resembles the biblical story in many ways. However impressive at first glance, a rough gem, permanently in scaffolding. It remains unclear whether Babel will ever reach and attain top form as a striker, for now though, he is useful enough for Ajax, proving a weapon with his speed and ability to score. For now, he remains an eternal talent, with so much potential gone to waste. Like many of his former team mates of that U-20 tournament, never reaching the level that was expected of them. Since he will be turning 26 this year, only time will tell if he ever will mature enough to reach beyond the Ajax level.
It just goes to show, talent alone does not get you there in top sports. For now, his performances do not warrant a return in the Oranje jersey, but I will be following him with great interest.
Hope you enjoyed, Alex