When your club is sitting second from bottom in the Premier League, it is quite clear the squad isn’t good enough overall, regardless of what part of the team you are talking about. Fulham’s attack has under-achieved all year and their defense has been one of the worst in modern history. Along with that, Claudio Ranieri has essentially come in and completely neutered the possession-based style of play this squad was built upon over the past two-and-a-half seasons under Slavisa Jokanovic. Regardless of what your thoughts are on how to make the club better, desperation has to take hold on Tony Kahn and Co. to find the right players to help them avoid relegation. Bluntly, winnable games are becoming few and far between and shock results now need to happen for Fulham to increase their chances of staying up. The real question now is whether their first signing would make such an impact.
Last Tuesday, Ryan Babel joined our beloved football club for a permanent contract that will only last for the rest of this season and is projected to only be worth £1.8 million. It’s a deal that won’t break the bank too much at Craven Cottage and the 32-year old has something to prove after leaving the Premier League over seven years ago.
Back then, Babel was supposed to be a rising star at Liverpool and for the Dutch National Team. But once 2011 came around, he was forced to leave and join then-Bundesliga upstarts Hoffenheim and never sniff International football again for another six years after 37 caps. A move over to mid-tier club football in Turkey and then the riches of the United Arab Emirates came calling and it seemed like Babel was about to leave the top-tier professional football scene entirely. That was until Deportivo La Coruña came knocking and his career got a reboot back in the Summer of 2016. Babel went on to reward the club with four goals in just 560 La Liga minutes. However, his Deportivo tenure only lasted as long as his contract, which also happened to be six months.
From there, Babel used that negotiating leverage to move over to Turkish giants Besiktas where he continued to be quite solid at his advancing age. Since his move back to the Superlig, he went on to score 22 goals in 5,230 minutes (or 0.37 goals per 90 minutes). While no longer at his prime anymore, his offensive numbers this season have stayed consistent throughout his entire tenure. His 2.18 shots per contest rate and a shot-on-target percentage of 40.0% are much better than what Fulham currently have at their disposal. For example, André Schürrle’s shot-on-target mark is only at 32.7% while Ryan Sessegnon’s is at 35.0%. And unlike Schürrle, Babel has been used to playing over 2,000 of league play in recent seasons, so health will surely not be as much of an issue for him.
However, it can’t be stated enough the uncertainty there is for how well players perform once they leave the comforts of Turkish football. In the past, the league has been infamous for being a last salvage destination for aging stars like Didier Drogba and Robin Van Persie. Only Everton’s Cenk Tosun has been the lone example of a player coming good and even that has come with mixed reviews. Along with that, the big three of Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce have been having dreadful campaigns as their performances have coincided with the worsening of the quality of play in the league as a result of the economic and political crises that are currently happening in the country.
So yeah, it’s understandable to take things with a grain of salt in that regard.
Along with that, Babel’s 1.29 key passes and 0.19 assists per 90 minutes while at Besiktas are not that much of an upgrade to what we have seen out of Schürrle this season. Lastly, his ratio of 13 successful dribbles to 32 dispossessed events is not a good sign at all from a wide forward. It’s one thing to average close to half as many dribbles (1.14 per 90 minutes this season) as your career mark (2.28 per 90 minutes). It’s another to have defenses give no respect for you whatsoever out on the wing.
In short, Fulham have got a warm body to supposedly improve their squad depth to not that much cost. But with a demand for out-and-out starters looking like successful Premier League players right now, Babel will probably struggle to check all the boxes to meet those requirements. We’ve already seen a supposed star from the past look like a shadow of his former self in 2018/19 for Fulham. Will Ryan Babel be another?