Tuesday, 5 January 2010

LIVERPOOL FC: Is Rafa Benitez right to keep Ryan Babel?


RAFA BENITEZ'S decision to rule out selling Ryan Babel in the transfer window has caused abject disbelief among some Liverpool fans.

'He's had his chance,' some say. 'Cut our losses,' say others. Yet more...well, let's keep it clean, eh?

The Dutchman was widely tipped to be one of the players shown the Anfield exit door this month but Benitez, it seems, has other ideas.

"Babel will have a chance to play," Benitez told the BBC after the 1-1 FA Cup draw with Reading.

"He has to work hard. He's our player and he will have his chances. At this moment we are not trying to sell him."

The 23-year-old was signed from Ajax for £11.5million in 2007 and agreed a five-year deal. Now - halfway through his contract -  it's safe to say he hasn't lived up to expectations.

Ten goals in his first season promised much but moments like his peformance in the quarter final of the Champions League against Arsenal - when he won a penalty and scored a goal after coming off the bench - have been few and far between.

So, why not get rid?

I think there's a few reasons behind Benitez's stance. While players like Andrea Dossena (reportedly on his way to Napoli), Philip Degen and, particularly, Andry Voronin look lost causes, Babel  could  still prove valuable.

With pace, skill, strength and a thunderbolt of a shot in his armoury, he has the tools to do the job. What's been in doubt, is his attitude and commitment.

But even this season he's shown in flashes what he could  offer - think his superb goal against Lyon and his impressive run and cross for Fernando Torres's goal against West Ham.

There is something there. Kenny Dalglish saw it, saying Babel could "terrify" Premier League defenders. Marco Van Basten saw it too, saying he had the potential to be "the next Thierry Henry".

Arsene Wenger clearly rated him as well. In fact, a move to Arsenal looked nailed on before Liverpool upped the bidding (how times have changed).

Then there's the World Cup. Babel is running out of time to secure a place in the Holland squad and perhaps Benitez thinks this will fire him up to finally turn potential into performance.

If it does, and he ends up in the Dutch squad and making a contribution in South Africa, wouldn't Liverpool claw back more of that huge fee with such achievements on Babel's CV?

As it is, he's a flop. And flops come cheap - not what's required considering Benitez can only spend what he generates - a situation that looks unlikely to change anytime soon under owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Netherlands v Denmark - International FriendlyWhich leads me to my next point. Think what you like about Babel, but he's versatile. Benitez clearly thinks so, why else would he have played him on the left, the right and up front?

With money tight, perhaps Rafa thinks a Holland regular with 33 caps is better off on the books than off them - because who (realistically) would he get in to replace him this month?

So now (again) it's up to Babel. But  Benitez could play his part too. Give him a run in the team - then, once and for all, there can be no excuses if he blows his chance.

Because, as it stands, Babel has never played in a long run of games for Liverpool. Ok, maybe his performances haven't warranted it. But he certainly has never been afforded the patience offered to other underperforming players.

In 106 appearances, Babel has started 47 games, coming on as a sub in 59. And he's been given the hook 31 times.

The most games Babel has ever started in a row is six, that was in his first season. Last season the figure for most consecutive games was two. This season he has started just five games - and they have never been in a row.

Benitez is often criticised for playing safe. If he keeps Babel this transfer window he has to throw caution to the wind and gamble on him coming good. And that means consecutive games and minutes on the pitch. 

If he's never given that opportunity, we'll never know.