The elixir of life is real and it’s currently tucked away safely in Ryan Babel’s boot bag.
How else can you explain the Dutchman’s re-emergence on the international scene?
Just when you thought he was off to wind down his career in the CSL/MLS/any other handsomely paid acronym, Babel popped up with a goal against the reigning world champions.
But we shouldn’t be surprised.
Babel’s international career has experienced more ups and downs than a camel ride through any suburban London back street.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane before anything changes again.
The rise (PT.1)
Marco van Basten handed Babel his first cap for the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier against Romania on 26 March 2005.
Babel was the bright hope of Dutch football. He’d only been in the Ajax first-team for 13 months but Van Basten was already claiming he had ‘all the potential to be the next Thierry Henry’.
An injury to Arjen Robben saw Babel introduced in the 23rd minute. By full-time he’d become the youngest Dutch goalscorer for 68 years, netting the second goal in a 2-0 win.
Four days later he was given another 40 minutes alongside established international stars Edwin van der Sar, Phillip Cocu, Mark van Bommel and Ruud van Nistelrooy in a 2-0 win over Armenia.
Babel missed eight of the next 12 international games- two absences were due to commitments with the Under-20 and Under-21 squads- but was still included in Van Basten’s 2006 World Cup squad.
The 19-year-old was the youngest member of the squad, while only Kew Jaliens and Tim de Cler had fewer outfield caps.
Nevertheless, Babel made his World Cup debut against Argentina in the final group game. It would prove to be his only appearance as the Netherlands were knocked out in the round of 16 war against Portugal.
The fall (PT.1)
Ahh, it was all going so well.
Babel moved to Liverpool at the end of the 2006/07 season for £11.5million, sharing his unveiling with Yossi Benayoun, also known as The Answer To Every Football Trivia Question Ever.
He played a part in every single one of the Netherlands’ Euro 2008 qualifiers, scoring against Bulgaria and Slovenia.
After a solid first campaign, in which Babel played a career-high 49 games in all competitions, he linked up with his international team-mates.
The day before the Netherlands’ last pre-tournament friendly Babel tore ankle ligaments, an injury which ruled him out of Euro 2008.
As Babel recovered Liverpool signed fellow winger Albert Riera, a move which would have serious implications on the Dutchman’s career at Liverpool.
Liverpool finished as runners-up in the Premier League in 2009- Babel’s highest position during his time at the club- but he’d slipped behind Riera, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun in the pecking order.
The rise (PT.2)
Babel remained in the international picture, despite struggling to hold down a place at Liverpool.
Bert van Marwijk had replaced Van Basten after Euro 2008, but the change of manager didn’t get in the way of Babel picking up minutes and caps.
The Netherlands could call upon the mercurial talents of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, so Babel was keeping good company.
Of the 21 matchday squads between Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup Babel only failed to make five.
The fall (PT.2)
This is where, predictably, the story takes another turn for the worse.
Babel watched on from the bench as the Netherlands got all the way to the World Cup final.
He didn’t see a single minute of play across any of the seven games, the final of which saw Andres Iniesta score an extra-time winner for Spain.
In January 2011, amidst the arrival of Luis Suarez from Babel’s former club Ajax, one of Kenny Dalglish’s first moves as Liverpool coach was to sell the Dutchman to Hoffenheim.
Babel didn’t play any of the Netherlands’ Euro 2012 qualifiers, so it was no surprise when Louis van Gaal left him at home.
His plight worsened when, only weeks after the Netherlands’ Euro 2012 exit, Babel was released by Hoffenheim.
A return to Ajax did little to boost his international chances.
After a solitary season back in the Eredivisie Babel was on the move again, this time to Turkish Super Lig side Kasimpasa.
Two seasons in Turkey were productive, but Babel still made the choice to sign for Al Ain in the UAE Arabian Gulf League in July 2015.
This spell was nothing short of a disaster, ending with Babel in the reserves as Al Ain chose four other ‘foreign’ players to fill their quota.
Then, in the winter of 2017, Babel moved back to Turkey, this time with Besiktas.
He hadn’t been seen in a Dutch shirt since a 3-0 loss to Germany on 15 November 2011.
The rise (PT.3)
Like all good (Disney) tales, this one ends on a high note, at least for now.
A career-high 15 goals in all competitions during the 2017/18 season put Babel back on the international map.
On 7 October 2017 Babel was called up by Advocaat for the 3-1 World Cup qualifier win against Belarus.
Three days later he assisted Robben in a 2-0 win over Sweden, although it wasn’t enough to secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup
The 31-year-old has been included in every squad since as Ronald Koeman looks to take the Netherlands, minus the ‘golden generation’, out of the darkness.
By the time Euro 2020 comes around Babel will be 33. But that might not be a bad thing as Koeman looks for experience amongst the young core of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong.
Let’s not forget, age doesn’t apply when you’ve got the elixir of life.
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