It could have been just yesterday, or it could have been five years ago. But just like that, Ryan Babel was at Ajax on Monday afternoon. This season, the 25 year old forward returns to the club where it all started. “I’ve become more mature”, says the Amsterdam native.
The young boy who arrived at Ajax at age ten is back at home. More mature, more conscientious, more grown up. But he’s still a bit stunned, standing on the Amsterdam ArenA’s head field. “It’s definitely familiar, because it still looks almost the same as five years ago. But I still need to let it sink in.”
Babel moved to Liverpool FC in 2007 and has played with Hoffenheim in Germany for the past two years. “I want to be seen again. I think that people don’t have a good perception of me, because I played good matches in Germany. With Ajax, I want to show how well I can play.”
There are only a few players left from his initial time with Ajax: “I only know Kenneth Vermeer; Niklas Moisander and Derk Boerrigter were playing with the second team, so I don’t know them very well. From the selection, I’m still in touch with Urby Emanuelson, Thomas Vermaelen and Hedwiges Maduro. I still see Maduro when we’re in Amsterdam.”
According to him, he’s become more mature in these five years. “I now have a two year old son. It’s only once you have a child that you know what real responsibility is.” And he can put that to good use in Ajax’s young group. “I’d like to be able to share my experience with the young guys. I’ve always had a good relationship with young players. I want to help them.”
Another familiar aspect of his return to Ajax is his jersey number: number 49. “I got that number in my first year, but I did end up feeling a connection with it. So it feels familiar. The difference of course is that now there are three stars on the jersey. I’ve never won a championship here. Of course I’ve followed it all on television during the past two years. It was nice to see how the media works then. They had completely written Ajax off, and then the match for the championship comes. I had goose bumps watching the celebration and would love to experience that first hand this year. It’s a good team and I think that the possibility for Ajax to win another championship is good.”
It’s not only Babel who’s happy; coach Frank de Boer is excited to bring in an experienced player into his group. “Ryan has played more than forty interlands and, after leaving Ajax, has played in two top European competitions. So not only will he add value to Ajax with his playing, but also with his experience. Now that everything is finalized, he can train with us. He doesn’t have much to make up, because he did the whole pre-season with Hoffenheim. So the only thing he’s missing is match rhythm. Several players are already gone due to interland commitments, so we don’t have a match this weekend. So that gives Ryan almost two weeks to build up his training. After that, we’ll need to see when he’s ready to play in a match. I obviously want to discuss that with him, so it’s too soon to talk about it. We’re definitely glad that he’s joining us.”