I was quite shocked when watching Soccer Saturday last week, Paul Merson leaped to the defence of Ryan Babel. He felt the Dutch forward had not been given a real chance of a run in the team with 6 or 7 games on the trot in the starting eleven. For the first time ever probably I had agreed with Merson’s point of view. Although, I would say, I am not quite in universal agreement with the opinion. Babel has had a strange two and half year stay, looking at the stats which show he has scored 18 goals for Liverpool playing mostly out wide, you would believe he has had quite a successful spell on Merseyside but he has more often than not been an impact player, utilized as a substitute. The reasons why Rafa Benitez has not started him more often have centred on the fact that the Spanish manager believes the player is not good enough for a starting place, however after Babel rejected a move to Birmingham, Benitez had this to say on the player:
“When we signed Ryan, we signed a player with talent, pace and ability. We want to see the best from him, so will push him and hopefully he can play well. He has the potential and has shown this a lot of times, but we want to see him at this level more frequently. He said he wants to stay, and if he can give something to us I will be really pleased.”
Consistency is what Benitez is looking for. I need not remind people of his spectacular goal against Lyon in France, which nearly saved Liverpool’s Champions League qualifying hopes, as an example of what the 23 year old Dutch player is capable of, but Benitez wants that from the forward every week. What’s certainly not helped Babel, something that Merson also alluded to, was the uncertainty of where to play Babel. Left wing, right wing or up front, Benitez has never been quite sure and he has generally started on the left side of midfield, a position I believe is his most ineffectual.
At left midfield, he generally runs the balls into cul-de-sacs and more often than not fails on crosses with his weak left foot. I could not help but think his talents could have been better utilized up front during Torres’s previous injury problems this season. Benitez has often opted for David Ngog instead up front rather than Babel and although the Dutchman has been out injured, even before then he did not really get a look in, in the position. Maybe the reason for this is that Benitez doesn’t see Babel as somebody who can hold up the ball and bring others into play as a lone striker, but Babel’s lightning pace would have been a tremendous threat in behind when Liverpool have struggled to open up teams this season.
So my general feeling is that Rafa is right not to have sold the player to Birmingham, although if he is not going to play him in a more comfortable position and give him some more regular starts it maybe time for the player to move on soon. In any case, £8million is not enough and Benitez is aware of that for two reasons:
I am not sure I would get the money to reinvest anyway. Maybe it doesn’t matter because there aren’t too many good players in the market that you can by for £8m. . . There aren’t too many good players available and any that are available are asking for big, big money. Big players play for big sides, most of them in the Champions League, so it is very difficult in January.
The fact is, for the money, he probably would not find a decent replacement, leaving one man less in the squad going into a crucial second half of the season. It is also superfluous considering the likelihood that the money would not be available for transfer funds anyway.
My belief is that Benitez should persevere with the player, at least until the end of the season, and give him a run on the right wing or as a striker to prove his abilities. If he fails once again to be consistent, then fine he should leave, but I don’t want to be kicking myself in a years time when he is banging in the goals for another club if the Reds fail to give him a proper look. Let’s just give him one last chance to succeed.
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