Ryan Babel: Back on Track on the Banks of the Bosphorus

Ryan Babel: Back on Track on the Banks of the Bosphorus

A week ago Ajax put one foot in the Europa League semi-finals, two goals from Davy Klaassen securing a comfortable first-leg victory over Schalke 04.

It was a good result, but the statistics were better.

Since September 1982, every one of the Ajax’s starting lineups has featured a product of its famous youth academy – a run lasting nearly 1200 games and 35 years.

Of course, one statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. For every Wesley Sneijder, there’s an Andy van der Meyde. For every Clarence Seedorf, a Stefano lurks in the shadows.

By the time he signed his first contract in 2004, Ryan Babel was placed firmly in the wunderkind camp.


Tall and agile with an accurate shot, Rafa Benítez fought off stiff competition from Arsenal to sign the Dutchman for his Liverpool side in 2007.

£11.5 million seemed a snip for a player who, alongside Royston Drenthe, had carried a vibrant Oranje side to the U21 European Championship that summer. The lithe and lethal Babel was the ideal foil for another marquee signing that year, Fernando Torres.

Four years later both players would leave the club, but under very different circumstances.

Torres had formed a deadly partnership with Steven Gerrard, his goals almost firing Liverpool to the title in 2009. His controversial move to Chelsea was a punch in the gut to most fans in the Kop end.

Babel, however, had garnered a telepathic relationship with the Liverpool bench. After a decent debut season, the Amsterdammer failed to push on, losing his place under Kenny Dalglish before fading from contention altogether.


By the time 1899 Hoffenheim launched a cut-price bid, most fans in the red half of Merseyside had already forgotten about him.

Things wouldn’t get much better in Sinsheim, with former Kopite and TSG coach Markus Babbel cutting him loose after 18 sagging months.

“The plan is to sign a one-year deal somewhere and try to earn a move to a big club again”, Babel’s agent Winnie Maastricht fibbed to De Telegraaf in 2013.

Ajax took the bait, but even they recognised a busted flush when they saw one. Kasımpaşa saved everybody’s blushes in the summer of 2013, bringing Babel to the Turkish Super League on a free alongside compatriot Ryan Donk.

Six years after being unveiled at Anfield, Babel was paraded around the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stadium, with hopes of a career at the highest level seeping quietly into the Bosphorus.


Liverpool have their own share of beautiful memories in Istanbul, but so does their erstwhile number 12. Free from the oppressive limelight and pressurised arenas, Babel shone for a side that had finished 6th in the league the year before. After eleven games they were just four points behind Besiktas and Fenerbahce, and whilst their form would dissipate, the Dutchman’s wouldn’t.

14 goals in 58 matches hinted at a second wind, but interest from Shanghai SIPG and Al Ain suggested European clubs weren’t for turning. It would be the reigning Gulf League champions who got their man, Babel replacing the mohawked Miroslav Stoch as Zlatko Dalić looked to build an Arabian dynasty.

Eight games later Babel would be gone once more, without a club and a clue.

Deportivo La Coruña, desperate after an injury to on-loan striker Joselu, had nowhere else to turn.

“I got the call a few days ago and I didn’t have to think much about it. It’s a great opportunity for me” he admitted to ESPN.

Finally, just months before his 30th birthday, redemption. Four goals, one assist and eleven dynamic performances spoke of a player eager to take his latest chance. Yet again though, he would be off before the ink had dried and the case had emptied.


“We cannot compete financially with the Turkish clubs” Depor president Tino Fernández assuaged Galician fans. After three flying months with their languid Dutchman, he was leaving them for Beşiktaş.

This year, Babel seems closer than ever to the form that convinced Rafa Benítez into making what was then Liverpool’s third-most expensive signing in history.

Nobody has completed more successful dribbles than him this year, not even his fellow tortured soul Ricardo Quaresma.

Last week it was his fifteenth minute goal that set Lyon hearts racing at the Parc OL, before the home side overcame Ottoman pressure to secure a first-leg lead in their UEFA Cup clash.

The Black and Whites were eventually knocked out on penalties in the second leg, but Babel tucked home his spot-kick with aplomb.


After Matchday 27 Beşiktaş sit five points clear, and seven games away from their fifteenth title. A decade in the wilderness has led Babel to this point, and he will be a crucial part of any attempt by the Black Eagles to retrain the trophy. He seems, at long last, to have finally grown wings.