Why hasn't Ryan Babel succeeded at Liverpool?

Liverpool have agreed a fee of about 7m (about £5.8m) with Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, for the sale of Ryan Babel. This means that the club is taking a hit of nearly £6m on this transfer. The problem is that Babel doesn’t seem to want to go. He seems to be holding out for a move back to former club Ajax, maybe as part of a deal for Luis Suarez.

Ryan Babel typifies the transfer policy of Rafael Benitez, which Liverpool are struggling to recover from. He arrived for a large transfer fee (about £11.5m) and was given an expensive contract (about £70k per week) didn’t seem to fit into the style of play Liverpool employed (or more accurately, wasn’t allowed to play his natural game) and overall just didn’t cut it.

Babel is undoubtedly talented. In fact, I’d go as far to say he is one of the most naturally gifted footballers I’ve ever seen. Many other players would kill to have some of the talent he possesses. He is blessed with pace, is able to use both feet well, is equally at home on either flank and has a powerful shot.

It’s because of this talent that many observers of the game are mystified as to why Babel did not play more for Liverpool. Marco Van Basten pretty much accused Liverpool of wrecking his career a couple of years ago through lack of games.

Unfortunately, Liverpool fans are not mystified by Babel’s omissions. They’ve seen him flatter to deceive for years.

Unfortunately, Babel is a bit like an extremely beautiful woman wearing a burqa. You know that there is a lot that you’d want to see, but you never get to see any of it. Babel has, for a number of reasons never shown Liverpool fans any sign that he will ever fulfil his potential, at least in a red shirt, and so it is right to sell.

The big question regarding Ryan Babel’s time at Liverpool is ‘Why did he fail?’ Is this failure down to the player himself? Or is it down to the way he was treated by Liverpool?

Babel is a player with fragile confidence and needs to be handled with kid gloves. Rafa Benitez’s methods and handling of players was completely wrong for Babel. Benitez motivates through criticism, and that’s exactly what some players need but that doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it has had the opposite of the desired effect on Babel, rather than helping him improve, it has made Babel retreat into his shell, terrified to make a mistake on the pitch and risk another telling off. Babel seems to be someone who needs an arm around his shoulder rather than a kick up the backside. He needs the carrot rather than the stick.

That just wasn’t the Benitez way and Babel’s confidence suffered as a result. Also, Benitez’s policy of forcing his players to take a maximum of three touches at any one time completely went against his football instincts and he struggled to fit into a more disciplined system, rather than one where he would be allowed to take more risks and be creative. This seems to be a worrying trend at Liverpool where players are asked to sacrifice creativity for discipline. Several youth players this season have made worrying quotes about how they’re being encouraged to track back and tackle more rather than focus on their natural game.

Also, Babel’s confidence was hurt by the rotation policy. He went from being on the main men for Ajax to being a substitute for Liverpool. In his first season alone he was dropped on ten occasions after scoring in the previous game. This won’t have helped him at all.

There was also the amazing admission by Babel earlier this season that Benitez wouldn’t allow him to do extra training, even if he wasn’t involved in the first team. If he asked permission he’d get told “No”, if he just went ahead and did it anyway, he’d get told to stop. Surely if a player wants to do something to improve their game, they should be encouraged rather than slapped down?

Every manager has their favourites and every manager has their whipping boys and unfortunately Babel became Liverpool’s whipping boy under Benitez. Babel once said about his (non)relationship with Benitez:

"I have tried to talk to the manager but it isn't of any use. I couldn't really do anything with the feedback [he] gave me. We have agreed to look at my situation during the winter. If there's no improvement then, I have to be honest, I want to play somewhere else. I don't play a lot so I can't be happy and I can't cheer out loud.

"Certain emotions are blocked, they are pushed back by all the worries I carry with me. Sometimes I wonder how long I can sustain it but I will fight for my position - what else can I do?”

Babel has made 146 appearances for Liverpool, but 81 of those have been as a substitute. There are two ways to interpret this. That he has not been given a proper run in the team or that he has not done enough in those appearances to merit a proper run in the team. The truth is probably a mixture of both.

Liverpool have tried to sell Babel in the two previous transfer windows, indeed he was sent to London by helicopter on the last transfer deadline day to try and secure a move to West Ham . Both moves broke down apparently over personal terms.

So with him having one foot out of the club in the summer it probably wasn’t a surprise that Babel hasn’t held down a regular starting spot this season. Again his performances have ranged from excellent to appalling.

Of course, there is a counter-argument to why Babel did not succeed at Liverpool, and that is it’s down to the man himself. Many would argue that Babel simply did not show enough effort or application to merit a regular starting spot and that he was given ample opportunity to succeed and didn’t take his chances when they came.

There may be some truth to this because unfortunately the games where Babel has played badly far outnumber the games where he’s played well. He often cuts a frustrated figure on the pitch but sometimes he looks like he doesn’t care and that’s what angers fans.

They also say that he is distracted by his interests outside of football, which seem to be music and Twitter, which got him into a bit of trouble recently. To me this is a bit of a stupid criticism because these are hardly the worst hobbies in the world are they? Especially since we’ve had players like Jermaine Pennant whose interests seemingly included drinking and shagging (and may or may not have forgotten that he owns a Porsche that’s been left at a Spanish railway station for 5 months!).

My opinion is that some of the arguments about Babel’s attitude and desire are valid, but it’s important to consider why he has a bad attitude. I believe his problems are down to the way he has been handled by Liverpool, especially by Rafa Benitez. He was asked to play a style which was alien to him, was constantly getting dropped after good performances and was playing for a manager that just didn’t seem to want him.

At the time of writing, Babel is still a Liverpool player, but his days seem numbered. Babel is a player who promised much, but he’ll be remembered more for what might have been rather than what actually was.