Earlier this week I met Ryan Babel, the much maligned Liverpool winger, who was launching a competition in conjunction with Juice FM to find the next big urban music star.
As a big Liverpool fan the chance to interview one of their players was definitely not being turned down and although the focus was on Babel’s music and his search for new local talent, I was determined to slip in a few questions about the football.
Babel is now in his third season at Liverpool and things haven’t been going well. In his debut campaign we witnessed his undoubted potential as he scored a number of crucial goals and proved very effective when coming off the bench.
But last season he failed to build on this and found himself in and out of the matchday squads, never managing to hit the heights of his first season and facing plenty of criticism from fans and pundits who expected so much more from the 22-year-old.
This season, just a few games old, has been much the same. He was left out the squad completely for last week’s 4-0 league win over Burnley at Anfield and was limited to a fifteen minute cameo against Debrecen in the Champions League midweek.
I spoke to him on Monday after the Burnley game and following speculation in recent weeks that he was on his way back to Ajax from whom he signed in 2007 when the transfer window reopens in January.
Despite English being his second language, the Dutchman is a master of the football speak and deflected questions about his Liverpool future with ease when I asked him about it, insisting he intends to stay at the club.
This had as much to do with his undoubted training in the ways of dealing with interviewers as it did with his agent, present throughout the interview and hovering behind me as I asked questions.
I am reliably informed he got even closer behind me and was practically breathing down my neck as I broached the issue of Ajax towards the end of the interview. Check it out below.
Nonetheless it was a decent interview and Babel himself was an incredibly nice guy with a firm handshake, a smile and a wink. He was not at all like the typical arrogant, moody footballer nor did he display the kind of ‘don’t care attitude’ that sadly he often seems to do on the pitch.
Having met him on Monday I witnessed him at close hand, just three rows from the pitch, make an impressive substitute cameo against Debrecen on Wednesday night.
In his interview Babel insisted he sees his long term future at Anfield. You would like to believe it but if he is not doing the business on the pitch he may not have a choice in the matter.
But having seen what a nice guy he is, for purely selfish reasons I hope he does have a long term future at the club, realising the potential he has shown all too infrequently over the last few years.