Ryan Babel is a peculiar case.
When Liverpool paid Ajax £11.5 million for his services in 2007, the Dutchman was one of Europe’s hottest young properties.
In that same transfer window, Thierry Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona and Babel was tipped by Dutch legend Marco van Basten to emulate the iconic Frenchman.
And the comparisons were more than just aesthetic. Babel, who is on the verge of completing a switch to AGL champions Al Ain, is a right footed winger who operates from the left, possessing a ferocious shot and plenty of pace to burn.
He was the other big signing for the Reds that summer alongside Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun. He was a signing that got supporters excited. But what he became was Anfield’s great enigma.
— Ryan Babel (@Ryanbabel) June 18, 2015
Occasional flashes of brilliance such as his sensational strike against Lyon and his breakaway goal in the dying moments of a Champions League quarter-final against Arsenal, were overshadowed by a succession of desperate performances when he was firmly on the periphery.
He was a player too often found sulking on the wing and running down blind alleys. There were many false dawns. So many times one display seemed to signal a coming of age, only for him to slip back into bad habits.
The trouble was consistency. He drifted from exhilarating to infuriating, though, he maintained he was a striker and not a winger.
He made 146 appearances for Liverpool but only 65 were starts and he was substituted 40 times: 25 full games in four seasons.
Ppl asked me about Firmino… He’s super talented, but i dont know where LFC could play him as they have Coutinho… #YNWA
— Ryan Babel (@Ryanbabel) June 23, 2015
“I definitely made the wrong choices,” he said in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. “I left Holland too early, I probably should’ve stayed one more year for my development, but these things happen.”
What didn’t happen, was Babel reaching the potential his raw materials had promised. Now 28, should he, as is expected, sign a two-year deal with Zlatko Dalic’s side, he may have just made the right choice. Yet to reach his peak, there are still years in the bank, speed still in the legs and power still in those stinging shots.
This opportunity represents a chance to be reborn and to fulfill some of the potential he promised.
Babel’s apologists pointed to the fact that he never received a prolonged run the first team at Liverpool. But at The Boss he’ll have the spotlight he richly craves and thrives off.
During a two-year spell at Turkish side Kasimpasa goals were still at a premium – just 14 in two seasons – but what he brings is excitement.
Babel is a big signing once again. Let’s hope this time he doesn’t leave fans scratching their heads wondering how it went wrong.
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