Regardless of what one might have thought, Villa selling Stewart Downing to Liverpool for £20 Million (2011 summer transfer window) still felt like reasonably good business at the time. A few months down the line, Downing has produced literally none of the glimpses of talent Villa fans witnessed for his new employers at Anfield. It now feels like even better business. But there is a reason for this.
15 games into his Liverpool career Downing has produced nothing. Not so much as an own goal. His form is appearing as elusive as the Higgs Boson particle. Indeed, if Andy Carroll hadn’t been unbelievably signed for £35 million he could be called the most expensive flop. Downings not even capable of that right now. His luck truly is out. He even can’t win in the worst haircut stakes.
When you really sit down and think it’s a genuine puzzle to work out quite why he has had such faith invested in him. Upon joining Villa from Middlesborough following their relegation three seasons ago Downing endured a torrid first year at the club. Having missed pre-season (due to injury) and the initial fixtures he struggled to find his feet – leaving many to wonder quite why then manager Martin O’Neill had thrown £12m at everyone’s favourite England winger. But the fact was he was quite literally that inconsistent, uninspiring and largely average in his play. His intial showings at the club could be defined as being an extended groan with moderate booing thrown in for good measure.
For this is the problem. Downing is a bit decidedly average and really a bit of a fan joke. This isn’t meant nastily, I’m sure that he’s a lovely bloke. One imagines he always says hello to his neighbours, sends his mom flowers, makes jam at the weekend and owns a Prius. But facts are facts. He’s the type of player who makes your eyes roll when seen him warming up during a crucial England match. Mr. Average Joe might help you to 6th, he’ll try really hard, but he’s not going to be lifting any World Cups anytime soon.
There’s the problem Liverpool will have, with their loftier ambitions. Man City have Nasri, David Silva – Chelsea have Juan Mata, Man United have Young/Nani/Valencia, Tottenham have Van Der Vaart, Lennon, Liverpool have….Stewart Downing. Hardly comparable. And take it from Villa fans, this is as good as it’s going to get – and you’re going no higher with Teesides most famous export.
But there are pros.
Stewart Downing does offer an intelligence, and definitely added a footballing mind to Villa’s play that was complimentary to that of the raw natural talent that Ashley Young possessed. At face value it looked very much like a two pronged dynamic attack, but when one thinks back, it’s scary how few matches that Downing impacted upon. Downing was able to contribute in a successful team, but fell woefully short if required to influence or change a game. He does not possess the knack of being the catalyst when faced with a tricky fixture. In short, he was a classic: 1 great game, 4 immediately forgettable games, type of player. Intelligent he might be, but a world class, top four winner in the worlds best league? No. Whilst Wayne Rooney will not be winning a Turner Prize anytime soon, he’s a superb footballer, a winner. Intelligence, whilst desirable, certainly isn’t everything on the football pitch it would appear.
Therefore it is with a wry smile that one reads about Downing’s return to Villa Park this Sunday. He will likely arrive, score a hat-trick and set up three more to sour the purpose of this piece (payback can indeed be a b*tch), but that would do little to confirm anything about Villa’s back line than was already known. But having said that, it would be a shock if he were that hard to contain.
That is because, and this is in all seriousness, I would be surprised if Villa feared Downing. Keeping him quiet is as difficult as keeping him wide; being armed with indifferent crossing and stifling his desire to cut in always seemed to result in a non-performance. And it is the non-performance that would be very concerning if I were a Liverpool fan. Because it is not desire, keenness or thoughtful play that Downing lacks – it is the cutting edge and quality to make the unexpected happen. And for £20 million pounds, I would want some of the latter.