Holland coach Marco Van Basten recently criticised Rafael Benitez’s handling of Ryan Babel, noting that the player had taken a step backward since his arrival at Anfield. A harsh assessment? Not if you look at the facts; and having examined the facts, Benitez’s truly appalling treatment of the player is depressingly clear.

Van Basten argued: “If you look at Ryan Babel, it is a mortal sin he now sits on the bench at Liverpool. He was playing well in Holland and for the Under-21s but now he has taken a step backwards.”

Babel cost £11.5m and inarguably has huge potential - the question is has he been given the chance to fulfil that potential?

The answer is resoundingly and unequivocally NO.

As we’ve all seen, Rafa loves his facts, so let’s consider some facts about Ryan Babel:

2007-08: Babel’s first season

50 appearances

Starts - 29
Subbed – 21 times
On the bench - 24 times
Unused sub – 4 games


Subbed or on the bench in 82% of games
Subbed in 72% of games started
Scored 11 goals. On 10 occasions, dropped to the bench for the next game.


38 appearances

Starts – 9
Subbed – 4 times
On the bench – 25 times
Unused sub – 6 times

Subbed or benched in 76% of games
Subbed in 44% of games started


88 appearances

38 Starts
Subbed – 25 times
On the bench – 49 times
Unused sub – 10 times

Subbed or on the bench in 84% of games
Subbed in 66% of starts

Taking into account unused sub status

In the squad 93 times
Subbed or on the bench in 90% games

With these figures in mind, consider the following questions:

1. Has Babel been given any kind of chance to establish himself at Liverpool?
2. Has he been allowed to flourish in any way?
3. Has he been allowed a consistent run of games *ever*?
4. Given the fact that in his first season, he was dropped to the bench TEN TIMES after scoring goals, has he been treated fairly in this respect?
5. Is there any justification for such treatment of the player?

The most important question for me is this: Do we want players to be treated this way at Liverpool FC?

The answer has to be no, yet some pigheaded fans just refuse to accept the truth that Rafa’s treatment of certain players over the years has been simply inexcusable.

Fans often seem to criticise Babel for his alleged lack of drive during his sporadic appearances, but how would you react when your manager has damaged your career, never given you a fair chance and made it abundantly clear that he has no faith in you?

Robbie Keane is another example of a player Benitez has treated in a similarly inexcusable manner: Keane was subbed or on the bench in 28 of his 33 appearances, which equates to 85% of games.

I’ve heard countless fans come up with the same ridiculous arguments: ‘Keane missed a few sitters so he deserved to be on the bench’; or ‘Keane did nothing when he was on the pitch’.

What a load of cretinous drivel.

For some reason, the ‘Rafa can do no wrong’ brigade are unwilling to accept that it is practically impossible for a player to get into any kind of rhythm/build understanding with team-mates/build confidence etc when subjected to the kind of treatment meted out to Keane, Babel, and before them, Peter Crouch.

Another pertinent point to consider: With Keane and Babel, Benitez has totally wasted over £30m of the club’s money.


And that’s not including salaries.

I have absolutely no doubt that if allowed to actually play consistently, both Keane and Babel could have been very effective players for the club. Instead, Benitez has subjected them both to career damaging periods of endless inactivity, for which there is no excuse.

This kind of treatment is one of the principal reasons I am not a fan of Benitez and his way of doing things. Treating players with such contempt (which is what it basically amounts to), does not fit with the philosophy of the club and - IMO - is not behaviour befitting a manager of Liverpool FC.

Fans might not care about the likes of Keane and Babel, but just watch them change their tune when one of their favourites starts suffering from the Benitez effect.

If Ryan Babel wants to save his career and actually progress as a player, he has only one option: leave Liverpool and go to a club where he will treated fairly and given a consistent chance to prove himself.

For any player, leaving Liverpool can only be a step down, but Benitez has made it unambiguously clear that he is NEVER going to give Babel a proper chance.

To stay at the club under the Benitez regime would be career suicide.


Brazilian legend set to come in for wantaway winger

MANCHESTER UNITED will target Brazilian superstar Kaka to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sir Alex Ferguson will put a spectacular £70million plan in place when - not if - the Portuguese winger demands a summer move to Real Madrid.

Despite the denials, there has been a growing suspicion within United that 24-year-old Ronaldo will force a move to the Bernabeu after setting his heart on the switch.

United would use the world record fee to try to lure Kaka, along with Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery as tney.

Kaka, who turns 27 this week, committed himself to the San Siro when Manchester City failed in their £100m bid for the striker.

Footballing reasons were behind his rejection of a world record deal but United are more in tune with his on-field ambitions.

Fergie, who has admired Kaka for years but previously thought him way out of his price range, also knows there is no better time to try to lure him to Old Trafford.

In what may turn out to be a sweet irony for the United boss, the potential influx of funds from Ronaldo's sale may not have come at a better time.


AC Milan are in need of massive rebuilding job and are expected to lose manager Carlo Ancelloti to Chelsea at the end of the season. They've failed to challenge for the Italian title again and didn't even qualify for this year's Champions League.

Kaka has regularly shown his frustration and expressed fears about the club's future unless they recruit more young talent. He even asked for Milan to bid for Liverpool Steven Gerrard this week, a player they have no chance of signing.

Fergie will have observed such signs of unrest and, in contrast to his city rivals, will be confident he can persuade Kaka to revive his career in England.

As well as Kaka, United are expected to bid for Ribery, while Wigan's Antonio Valencia is already seen as a 'done deal,' with on-loan Spurs striker Fraizer Campbell likely to head to the JJB as a makeweight in the transfer.

A move for Kaka would also spell the end of Carlos Tevez's fading hopes of a permanent United deal.

But it's the Ronaldo conundrum which is dominating the United boss's pre-season considerations, forcing him to formulate a transfer strategy on the assumption he may leave.

Fergie has maintained since Real first made their move he has no intention of allowing Ronaldo join the Spanish giants who he said 'he wouldn't sell a virus' earlier in the season but he's also mindful of the possibility the player can eventually force the issue.

But the talk of the Old Trafford dressing room is that Ronaldo has already made his mind up and will quit for Spain in the summer.

A source close to many of the United players said: "It's an open secret Ronaldo is off. He's made it clear he's done the year United asked him to do after Madrid's offer last summer and that he's off at the end of the season.

"The United players know it and probably Fergie accepts it. Now it's just a question of sorting the deal out."

If Ronaldo asks to go, even the all-conquering United boss will be powerless. A back-up plan is essential to ensure the champions have suitable replacements and there's no way Fergie will let his young winger leave him in the lurch.

The Ronaldo issue has also become a growing source of resentment within United's dressing room, with many of his team-mates tiring of the constant speculation.

It has been felt for some months the winger has his heart set on a move and although he's continued to contribute massively to the incredible quintet effort - not least with the winner in Porto in midweek - it has never dampened suspicions he'll move on.

The Old Trafford faithful haven't been enamoured by his flirtation with La Liga and the first public signs of a growing unease were apparent last weekend when Ferguson demanded Ronaldo stop sulking when decisions go against him.

When the Portuguese star struck the winner in midweek, his subdued, almost angry celebration appeared to be aimed directly towards the dug-out

Last year's double Footballer of the Year appears to be on the verge of making the all-too familiar mistake of believing United need him more than he needs United. If so, he would appear to have a surprisingly limited knowledge of United's recent history.

Ferguson's reign is peppered with examples of proving no-one is irreplaceable, regardless of their iconic status.

Whether it's Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, David Beckham or Roy Keane, Ferguson has continued to rebuild his squad after their departure to the point where their absence is barely noticed 12 months later.


If his audacious pursuit of Kaka comes off, Ronaldo will become the latest in a long line of players who've discovered United don't waste time licking their wounds when star players move on.

Somewhere in the depths of their manager's mind will be thoughts of next season and how to make a formidable squad even better. With or without Ronaldo, there's always another trophy to win, another player to attract and another team to rebuild for Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Real Madrid recruitment circus is preparing to roll back into town, but there's only one ringmaster in Manchester.

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