Babel set for move as Benitez feels the chill
THE FUTURE of Ryan Babel remains uncertain and will be resolved only if the Liverpool owners and Rafael Benitez come to a collective agreement that the winger should be sold.
Babel remains out of favour at Anfield, having failed to justify the £11m that Liverpool paid for the Netherlands international when he was signed from Ajax in the summer of 2007.
He is one of four fringe members of Benitez's squad who could be sold this month, along with Andrea Dossena, Philipp Degen and Andriy Voronin, but the Liverpool manager recently made it clear that Babel is the member of that quartet who he is most reluctant to sell.
Birmingham City have tested the water by tabling a bid in the region of £9m for Babel, but that has not been accepted by the Anfield hierarchy, despite their obvious desire to clear out some of the dead wood that has accumulated in recent seasons.
Several European clubs are tracking the 23-year-old, most notably Galatasaray, whose manager, Frank Rijkaard, coached Babel as a youngster at Ajax.
Besiktas, the champions of Turkey, are also in the hunt for a player once regarded as one of the most promising talents in European football but who has lost his way since moving to Anfield.
With the possibility of a bidding war breaking out for Babel's services, Birmingham have made it known to his agent, Winnie Haatrecht, that they will switch their attentions to other targets if it becomes clear that a quick deal is unlikely.
Haatrecht insists that his client remains happy at Liverpool, despite having become little more than a bit-part player, but conceded that Babel would be willing to leave should the club decide to cash in on him when his transfer value is still high.
Much depends on Benitez and, in particular, whether the Liverpool manager is willing to allow another squad member to depart without the possibility of a replacement being recruited until the summer.
Liverpool's transfer strategy has been settled upon, a decision having been made to move on those players who are on high salaries but playing little first-team football.
Benitez will be able to recruit Maxi Rodriguez, the Atletico Madrid and Argentina winger, on an 18-month contract and one other player, in all likelihood on loan.
However, he will have to decide whether selling Babel is a logical part of that strategy in the knowledge that he will not be able to reinvest the proceeds during the present transfer window and at a time when Liverpool are battling to achieve a top-four finish in the Premier League.
"It is about doing what is right for Ryan's career as a whole, rather than taking a short-term view," Haatrecht said. "We are not thinking about the World Cup. We are thinking about the next 10 years and that is why we have to consider things carefully.
"I have sent details of all the interested clubs to Liverpool and there are five or six of them. We know Liverpool are thinking seriously about the amount Birmingham have offered, but we only start thinking about it in the same way when an agreement has been reached between the clubs.
"Even then, we need to look at how Birmingham's squad is being built up, how the prospects for future success appear and perhaps listen to what the manager has to say.
"The offer has not been rejected yet, but I can say, in general terms, Ryan would still like to be successful with Liverpool. If the people at Anfield feel it is better for him to leave, though, then we have to think about starting a new chapter in his career."
Liverpool remain in the hunt for Marouane Chamakh, the Bordeaux forward, who will be available on a free transfer in the summer. The Morocco international is now eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement should he agree terms with any of the clubs pursuing his signature. (© The Times, London)