Ryan Babel (€17 million) (12/20)

Ah, the curious case of Ryan Babel. What could have been. Babel, a graduate of De Toekomst, started his career as a striker, and it’s easy to see why. Pacey, a good finisher, and rather difficult to topple 1v1, the Thierry Henry comparisons at the beginning of Babel’s career were apt. At Ajax though, Babel was more of a winger, forced out wide partly because of the form of Zlatan Ibrahimović more centrally. With the above attributes, it was a pretty sensible decision.

From a young age, Babel provided Ajax with a unique threat on the counter and a directness on the attack which had defences backpedalling as soon as the ball was played forward. His pace was frightening, and coupling that with his awareness and technical ability, Babel was a real threat.

No surprise then that Babel’s career started out with a bang. In his international debut in 2005 against Romania, Babel became the youngest Dutch goal scorer in 68 years upon netting, and the 4th youngest of all time. With 7 goals in 20 appearances in his first full season, Babel’s performances had a fair few fans very excited about what the future may hold for him.

In his 4 seasons in Amsterdam, Babel was a key component, and although he struggled to recreate his goalscoring form of 2004-05 in the ensuing seasons he spent in Amsterdam, he displayed enough ability and promise out wide to convince Liverpool to swoop in 2007. Nevertheless, despite starting 146 times for Liverpool over 4 seasons, consistency was the main issue for Babel during his time in the Premier League, and despite clearly having the ability on occasion to cause any defence a real hassle, Babel never quite hit the heights in England that it was led to believe he would.

A move to Hoffenheim followed in 2010 and after 2 seasons in Germany, Babel’s career became more nomadic, playing for 6 different clubs between 2012 and 2017 – notably Besiktas, Deportivo and a short stint back in Amsterdam where he was a bit-part player in Ajax’s 2013 title winning season.

It’s difficult to summise why Babel’s career never quite hit the predicted heights. Perhaps his biggest problem at Liverpool was that he didn’t fit the well-drilled ethic behind Rafa’s teams, or perhaps it was Rafa’s often quoted frostiness that alienated Babel. Settling in a different country is never easy and perhaps with more of an arm around his shoulder we would’ve seen Ryan Babel emerge into a better, more consistent player than he became.

Nevertheless, to call Ryan Babel’s career a flop is a little bit harsh. He had some fantastic moments in an Ajax shirt, where his trickiness, ability to beat defenders and accurate finish often combined to produce some quite sensational goals. With 2 Eredivisie titles to his name along with 2 KNVB Cup’s and 2 Johan Cruijff Shields as well as featuring as part of the Dutch squad that reached the World Cup final in 2010, he has played a part in some very successful sides.