Ryan Babel: The Dutch Enigma Looking To Derail England’s Nations League Title Bid
In Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs De Ligt the Netherlands can boast two of the best, and soon to be the most expensive, central defenders in the world. Ahead of those two they have the hottest midfield talent in football Frenkie de Jong, a man who has impressed so much at the age of 22 that Barcelona splashed out £60m on him to bring him to the Nou Camp. Alongside him the Oranje can rely on Champions League winner Gini Wijnaldum and Ajax superstar Donny van de Beek.
Up front, they have the resurgent Memphis Depay who is fulfilling his potential after a disappointing spell at Manchester United, PSV starlet Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Babel. Hang on a minute, THE Ryan Babel? All of these young talented stars may grab the headlines but Holland’s lack of an out and out striker means that Babel, who is enjoying somewhat of an Indian Summer to his career, is now key to Ronald Koeman’s system.
The 32-year-old, who is currently a free agent, has started 14 of the last 16 games for his country, 10 of those coming under the former Barcelona legend. That run of games came after a seven-year competitive absence from the national set-up but even then he was a disposable squad member. He failed to play a single minute at the 2010 World Cup as his country reached the final and then embarked on a bizarre adventure of club teams, which saw him drop off the radar completely.
In 2011, his Liverpool career was coming to an end but he delivered a wonderful parting gift - tweeting an image of referee Howard Webb in a Man United shirt. He was subsequently fined £10,000 by the Football Association and sold to Hoffenheim in the same month, where his career could have reigninted at the age of 24.
A forgettable 18 months at Hoffenheim culminated in just six goals before his boyhood club came calling. He paid off his contract with Hoffenheim out of his own pocket to move back home to Amsterdam with Ajax which seemed perfect for him. He helped his side win the title but moved to Turkey in the following year making way for the new generation at Ajax. It may have been this move that made us all think that Babel was older than he actually was, but nevertheless he moved to Kasimpasa aged 26.
Two years in Turkey were followed by a bizarre spell in the UAE Arabian Gulf League with Al-Ain which was cut short due to discipline issues before another quick move to Deportivo brought some success. However, it was his permanent move to Besiktas that finally sparked some form in the Dutchman.
Over two and a half seasons in Istanbul he played 86 times and scored 29 goals, winning one Super Lig title along the way. This good form got him back into the international picture and two goals against World Champions France in the Nations League group stages plus his good performances for Fulham in the second half of the Premier League season prove that there is life in the old dog yet.
His next move is set to be a controversial one. Hotly linked with a move to Besiktas’ fierce rivals Galatasaray this summer, his next visit to Istanbul could well be a spicy affair. He will attempt to win the Nations League with his country before deciding on his future but England must beware not only of this talented young Dutch side, but of their experienced red-headed journeyman up front.