Liverpool FC News: JUST seven weeks into the biggest job of his 34-year management career, Roy Hodgson admits he is learning all the time.
Having promised a clean slate to all the players he inherited, the Reds boss is still weighing up who has a part to play in the new era and who should be sent packing.
Last night Hodgson got his first proper look at Liverpool’s great enigma – Ryan Babel.
The Dutchman has flattered to deceive from the moment he walked into Anfield three years ago.
Ten goals in his first season was followed by just four the following year and only six last season.
Occasional flashes of brilliance such as the stunning strike against Lyon in the Champions League have been overshadowed by a succession of desperate performances when he has remained firmly on the periphery. He’s a player too often found sulking on the wing and running down blind alleys.
There have been many false dawns at Liverpool for the right-footed left winger who insists he is a centre forward.
So many times one display seemed to signal a coming of age, only for him to slip back into bad habits.
When Liverpool paid Ajax £11.5million for his services, Babel was one of Europe’s hottest young properties. Since then he has failed miserably to live up to the hype.
Rafa Benitez couldn’t tap into his undoubted potential.
The budding rapper tested the manager’s patience to the limit by frequently venting his frustration to the press about being left out of the side and was disciplined after revealing on Twitter he had been omitted from the squad to face Stoke last season.
But despite all that Benitez stuck with him. He could have offloaded him to Birmingham back in January but the fear with Babel is that he will go somewhere else and finally deliver.
Now the challenge to get the best out of the 23-year-old Dutch international falls to Hodgson.
Having not used him in the Reds’ opening three fixtures, the manager gave him a starting spot against Trabzonspor in his favoured central attacking role.
Hodgson’s reward was the only goal of the night just before the break as Babel handed the Reds a slender lead to take to the intimidating Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium next Thursday night.
It was a sublime finish from Joe Cole’s inch perfect pass with Babel relishing the chance to make an impact in the position he craves.
But in truth it was another night which encapsulated Babel’s Liverpool career.
Opportunity knocked in front of the new manager but for 45 minutes he was largely a spectator.
He struggled to hold the ball up and tossed possession away carelessly. If anything he merely highlighted the boss’s need to bring in a new striker to boost his options before the transfer window closes.
Babel’s only touch of class proved to be his final one as Hodgson took him off at half-time and replaced him with Fernando Torres.
But the fact remains that without that crisp swing of his right boot Hodgson would have been denied the honour of being the first Liverpool manager since Bill Shankly in 1964/5 to win his first three European games in charge.
How the Reds failed to add to their tally during a one-sided second half is something the manager will be rueing today.
Lucas and Milan Jovanovic were guilty of poor misses, Joe Cole compounded a miserable week by spurning a penalty in front of the Kop and debutant Christian Poulsen had a goal harshly ruled out for a foul on inspired keeper Onur Kivrak.
Hodgson rested most of his big guns but they will be needed in Turkey next week to keep Trabzonspor at bay.
Whether he will place his trust in Babel after last night’s Jekyll and Hyde display is open to debate.