One of the drawbacks of being considered “a team in transition” is that the vultures tend to circle. And as Stewart Downing has been non-committal on his Villa future for as long possible, it was therefore amongst the least surprising news of the morning to discover that Liverpool had put in an offer of £15m.
This, as always, raises a number of talking points.
Firstly it would be unfair to dismiss Liverpool’s bid as speculative. Downing is a fine player; inventive, thoughtful and generally reliable. However – it would be entirely misleading to suggest that he is the calibre of footballer to form part of a team capable of achieving major honours. After Liverpool’s failure to lure Ashley Young, who could reasonably produce world class displays, Downing is very much the second choice option. To reiterate; good player he is, world beater he is not. The relevance of which is the focus of this article.
Now – this should not be interpreted as identifying Downing as a weak player, or to suggest that he would not be missed at Villa – the squad would be poorer in his absence. But he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, irreplaceable.
A worry might be that he sees Liverpool as the next logical step in his career. Liverpool, though improving, are light years behind Manchester United, Chelsea and the big spending Manchester City. Tottenham and Arsenal also sit above in the pecking order. And whilst it would be wide of the mark as to suggest that Liverpool are in the mix for mid-table, their loftiest ambitions might only be found in the form of the Europa League for the next couple of seasons. It would therefore be hugely debatable as to whether it would advance Downing’s likelihood of winning anything.
But perhaps there is little point getting bogged down in predicting the future, as Aston Villa fans can testify following the last two contrasting seasons.
For a club like Villa the body blow should be felt in the very fact that Downing has sought to leave the club at the soonest opportunity. This is the central issue that should resonate the most. A generally quiet, intelligent and thoughtful member of the squad has been mindful of his public comments to leave the door open to a move and not once putting to bed the idea that he would want to stay at the club. The alarm bells have been ringing for a very long time with Downing.
And whilst it is never healthy to be fooled into the romantic ideals of loyalty in football – it is generally accepted that a player might at least not appear to be working towards a move. Downing’s very silence is telling.
The club’s rebuttal of Liverpool’s offer and murmerings of “not for sale at any price” most likely belong with such romantic concepts. Every player has their price, regardless of quality, difficulties in replacing or indeed whether or not they want to be sold. If Liverpool were to return with £20m as their offer, one would be hard pressed to say that wasn’t reasonable. Indeed 15m is ludicrous money if one is to be objective. And even though English players carry inflated transfer fees (as any football follower can assert) Villa would likely regret not accepting such a fee in a years time.
And what would be the reasoning be for selling one of our best players, to a team whom we should count amongst our rivals? Simple: Downing clearly wants out.
Keeping a player who’s head has been turned as Villa seek to re-build will create more unnecessary problems. We have enough issues at hand without allow whole new ones to fester away in the corner. Villa will have amongst the squad a man who will resent having been refused the move, will likely reflect this in performances and whom ultimately will not give his all for the cause. Our cause.
It is deluded, utterly deluded, to look upon retaining a player in this manner with the notion that somehow, in time, they will see differently. Yorke, Barry, Milner, Young – history is the best record for justifying the pointlessness of ignoring the inevitable.
And this is not the defeatist approach either. It is making the most from the reality of the situation. Villa are a team that needs a re-build. Desperately so when considering some of the criminal showings of last season. £20m will help with that (minus whatever Middlesbrough are entitled to) and looking to re-invest and re-invigorate surely cannot be considered a backwards step. Let us not forget that for all of Downing’s fine attributes, he was a regular during the 2010/11 debacle.
The notion that Downing would not represent a major loss should not be lost however. He does hold an appealing attacking style, stamina and much improved crossing. But his departure would not be the end of the world; he’s no Iniesta. Indeed it could be the catalyst for wholesale change as appears to be the approach of late at Villa Park.
Thus as supporters it is so important to retain a sense of perspective.
Although arguably the same notion could be outlined to Downing. A player who was purchased whilst recovering from a serious foot injury and whom barely featured for Villa in his first season as a result. One doesn’t recall him wanting to hang around on Teeside for any longer than he needed. The said purchase was also made from a club still languishing in the abyss of the Championship. These points are hopefully being outlined by Mr. McLeish at this moment. But then presumed loyalty and romantic ideals are, as we’ve already learned, at best disregarded.
As Villa’s resolve will likely be tested again, and as Downing’s agent no doubt provides the fuel to drive through the move, the club should instead look to put the matter to bed and move on.
Holding out for the best money is the wise approach, moving on an unsettled player is justifiable and instructing our manager to replace him accordingly should be the priority.
After-all, players come and go, but Aston Villa will live on.
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