In collaboration with Gassan Diamonds
Where do you start with Ryan Babel? Footballer, rapper, entrepreneur, the former Ajax, Liverpool and Netherlands winger has done it all. He is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary individuals we’ve worked with, but arguably, one of the most accomplished. In a world-exclusive interview, we discuss football, fashion and influence.
“I won’t always say the right thing, but my heart is always in the right place.”
Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
The most influential person to me as a child was my Father. My father was very strict and always monitored what I was or was not doing; he was a real disciplinarian. With the exception of football, I was unable to participate in the activities that other kids were doing.
I appreciate the impact of my father’s disciplinary approach on my life and the major influence it had in developing within me a foundation of discipline, commitment, strength and dedication.
Do you have any nicknames?
Yes, “Rio”. It was just a neighbourhood name that stuck.
What were you most afraid of as a child?
As a child, I was always afraid that I would be a garbage man. I associated being a garbage man with failure, and since academics didn’t come easy for me, I was afraid that could be my destiny. I always struggled in school to get good grades. I was envious of the kids that just got it because I didn’t get it. I had to work really hard to succeed. The academic challenges I encountered made me understand that one has to work hard to achieve one’s goals; there are no giveaways in life. Not only did my understanding of the role of hard work have an influence on my academics as a youth, but it also had a strong impact on my approach. Although I played in the youth academy of AJAX, I realised that I had to work really hard to be the best that I could be because there was no guarantee I would be selected to play in a professional league.
“I had to work really hard to succeed.”
That understanding/realisation governs my approach to my career today. I know that I am not too big to fail, and continued success comes from continuing to work hard and improve. Consequently, I show up ready to fight at every training session and game; I don’t want to be a garbage man. When I’m pushing the hardest to victory it’s as if I envision myself doing my most feared alternative job, collecting garbage. I don’t say this to offend garbage men, but, as stated earlier, as a child, I associated being a garbage man with failure.
Tell us how you were introduced to football.
I’ve always loved football. I walked around with a football in my hand as early as I can remember. Since I was seven years old, I attended football camps in Holland. In the summertime, my family spent a lot of time in parks; this allowed me a lot of time to practice. Until I was 17 years old, my summers were always spent doing the same thing. It was then that I had my professional debut.
I didn’t always believe I had something special, but my dad noticed that I had a lot of potential and talent. He knew that I needed to realise it, and he pushed me to focus and develop my talent. The level of focus and practice that I put into action allowed me not only to reach my current level of success in football but in everything I’m passionate about: being a dad, real estate investor, creative entrepreneur and producer.
Tell us who your biggest inspiration is both on and off the pitch.
My children are my biggest inspiration. Everything I do is with them in my mind and heart.
At what point were you recognised by scouts at Ajax?
When I was 10 years old I received an invitation from Ajax inviting me to a trial. Although I was only 10, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a very special moment.
What did it mean to you and your family when you were asked to sign a professional contract with the club?
When I was asked to sign a professional contract with Ajax, it was literally a dream come true. It was truly the manifestation of the hard work of my youth. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity and knew that I had to work even harder to sustain it on a long-term basis.
The Ajax academy system is known for producing amazing talented players over the years. Tell us why you think the youth system at Dutch clubs are always majorly successful.
The youth system at Dutch clubs are always majorly successful because the Academy is heavily focused on the technical aspects of football, the game toolkit you can’t teach yourself. In addition, the coaching staff is consistently strong and truly invested in player development.
You’ve played for some very big clubs across various different countries; what would you say has been the biggest difference between all clubs? In terms of football and also lifestyle?
The biggest difference between all the clubs I have played for is the varying cultures of success. For example, the UK evaluates success through working hard, getting your hands dirty, and then working harder again. In Holland, the focus is more on the technical/skill aspects of the game, if your touch is good or bad.
How has it been for both yourself and your family to adapt to different cultures?
It has been fairly easy for my family and me to adapt to different cultures. My family has enjoyed the experience and exposure. Personally, it has been quite easy for me. I have a chameleon personality; I easily adapt and enjoy getting to know diverse people and their cultures.
“I have a chameleon personality; I easily adapt”
Which club have you enjoyed your time at the most?
It’s difficult to answer which club enjoyed the most because every club ignited something special in me. Liverpool, however, puts the icing on the cake. In addition to the powerful energy of the game experience, I developed exponentially through what I learned from the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carra.
How has it been so far returning to Ajax, your boyhood club? Was it always in your dream to return here one day?
It was special to return to Ajax for a second time. It was one of those moments where one really appreciates the fact that everything comes full circle. We are on our way to becoming champions!
Tell us about your passion for music and your Los Angeles-based label, Underrated Music Group.
When I was 14, I played in the school band (Surinamese, my native country band). Honestly, I joined the band because I noticed that members of the band always got the girls.
I wasn’t popular in school but wanted to be popular, so I did everything I could think of to promote my popularity. When I joined the band, I discovered my passion for music. I went from joining the band to fit in, to realising the beauty and organic connection of music to my existence.
Given my deep-rooted passion for music, I decided to explore it in greater depth by launching Underrated Music Group. Although my music label is based in Miami, my partners & artists are based in Los Angeles. The inspiration of Jay Z / Birdman / P Diddy / Master P in starting independent labels motivated me to become a music executive. In 2012, I started the label in Amsterdam; I recently launched it in the United States. While I have a lot to learn, I am confident that my understanding of the business will continue to increase as I become more involved in the field. My artist, Tdot illdude will soon drop his EP called “From the Depths, a major and exciting stride.
It seems you have all the right platforms in place, bridging the gap between football, fashion and music! Talk to us about this and the creative mindset you have.
I definitely have a creative mindset. I am always building and investing in my passions. In my spare time, I diligently work on my personal passion projects in fashion, music and real estate. It is important to me that my brand extends beyond the present, and I want to have a platform to share my voice and creative energy at scale.
You have an amazing portfolio of properties; talk to our readers (the players) about how you built this and why it is so important to have investments.
Since I was 23 years old, my understanding and working knowledge of the real estate market, its landscape and the opportunities it affords to obtain long-term wealth generation have been essential to my long-term investment strategy. In my opinion, although risky, real estate is the best investment vehicle accessible to everyone. I’ve read some great books from great real estate investors like Robert Kyiosaki & Grant Cardone and have leveraged their thought leadership to become very deliberate in the investment opportunities that I pursue. I’ve had to determine the best strategy and types of investments to optimise my long-term capital gains. By the end of 2020, I plan to have a portfolio of 100 rental units that I will leverage as my track record and expertise in order to scale to an even greater number over the next five years.
Talk to us about the national team. It must be amazing to represent your country as often as you have. The team is looking really strong at the moment. Do you think they have a good chance at the Euros next year?
It’s an honour to be part of the national team after not being involved for six years. We are working hard to far exceed expectations and create exciting experiences for our football fans. I am confident that we won’t disappoint in the Euros next year.
Your style is super cool!
Describe a typical Ryan Babel outfit.
Thank you! My style is forever evolving. But, I treat my style, like everything else in my life, as an art.
If I’m going to the supermarket [laughs], a typical Ryan Babel outfit starts with the classic Calvin Klein boxer, H&M socks, Neil Barrett trousers & shirt, Dior sneakers and a classic Tom Ford leather jacket.
“I treat my style, like everything else in my life, as an art.”
Let’s talk about your watch collection. Which are your favourites at the moment?
I do not consider myself a watch collector; however, I do appreciate and admire the craftsmanship of the art of watchmaking. At the moment, my favourite watch is my platinum Rolex with the baby-blue Arabic dial. It’s simple, sexy, and…rare.
What cars are you driving right now?
Personally, I’ve never been a real car collector. I don’t prioritise them within my investment portfolio; however, I enjoy the functionality, reliability and style of Audi vehicles. I currently own an Audi RS3 and Audi RS6, which I’ve had for a few years. I really enjoy the way they ride.
Over the years, although your involvement in the national team has limited your travel time with your family, what are your favourite places to go on holiday?
My favourite holiday destination is Miami. Miami has a unique energy, positive vibrations, beautiful weather and inspiring people. It’s a place where I can relax, reset, create, and also keep an eye on some of my real estate investments.
Do you have children? If so, how many and what age and gender are they?
I have three boys, a nine-year-old son and a set of twins who are five years old.
What is your goal as a parent?
My goal as a parent is a). to relay my values strongly to my children in hopes that they will maintain the legacy that is left to them; b). to teach my children about the real world, the good, the bad, and the ugly; c). to emphasise the importance of kindness, humility and empathy; d). to provide the tools necessary to deal with potential encounters with racism, and to cope with the pressures of society; and, e). to develop leadership skills.
But, above all of the goals I have stated, kindness, humility and empathy are first and foremost. Oh yeah, and football.
Who are you closest to in your family?
The person in my family who I am closest to is my mother. She’s the best sounding board for my ideas and my accountability partner, and she ensures that I lead with integrity in my decision-making.
What is your happiest memory?
The birth of my children is my happiest memory. I can’t even describe the feeling of seeing my children for the first time; it was transformative.
Tell us how you manage to balance your football and family life.
Balancing my football and family life is definitely a juggling act; football takes a ton of time, commitment, and dedication and family life requires this as well. However, my family has been incredibly supportive of my career, and I maximise my free time with my family.
“They are my most valuable asset.”
What cool ideas do you have in place for the future?
At the moment, I’m keeping quiet about the cool ideas I have in place for the future, but stay tuned. I’m planning something major. I’ll make sure SWM is among the first to know.
What plans have you got in place for life beyond football?
When I retire, I plan on shifting my focus to a balance between family, real estate, and music. All of the things I’m now building on from the sidelines.
We know you have a passion for fashion. Are there any particular brands you’re really feeling at the moment?
There are a couple of fashion brands that I am really feeling at the moment. The designers at Dior are nailing it. Balenciaga is also engineering great pieces. Watch this space.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
My best friend would describe me as genuine, loyal, and humble.
How do you think people will remember you?
I think people will remember me first as kind. Then, as a renaissance man, that embodied success through his personal passions rooted in person. AKA, “a boss”.
Whose biggest fan are you?
I am Beyonce’s biggest fan; I admire her a lot. I admire everything she has done musically, as well as the person she is and how she publicly represents herself. She’s a bad B… no pun intended.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I like to read. It drives my creative and innovative ideas. If not reading a book, I am on conference calls with artists and partners or researching and thinking of the next strategic master plan.
Give one piece of advice to a younger Ryan Babel.
The advice I would give to a younger Ryan Babel is, “fear not”.
Give one piece of inspiration to everyone reading this.
The inspirational message I give to everyone reading this is:
“Dream with your eyes wide open”. That’s real vision.
"I love SWM. I love the magazine and to watch the Instagram stories, especially the properties. The guys are seriously good at what they do. Super quick and effective. I have used the services many times. Oh yes, i forgot i also have another car that i bought through your services but we don’t have to mention that in the interview."