October 13, 2012 by Socrates
Even the keenest admirers of Stewart Downing would have to concede that his move to Liverpool has not ‘worked out’. Signed from Aston Villa in July 2011 for the sum of £20 million, Downing’s form has clearly fallen short of his hefty price-tag. Indeed, given his rapid fall down the pecking order since the arrival of Brendan Rodgers, Downing looks set to leave in January for a much smaller fee. However, the reaction to the wide-man is interesting, especially in comparison with other players who have also struggled at Liverpool.
While there can only be so much sympathy for a person that earns millions of pounds to do something they love, for very few hours a week, Downing did not set his transfer fee – Aston Villa did. Strangely, Downing’s £20 million transfer fee has been used as a stick to beat the already fragile winger. Some fans do lay blame on a spending culture at the club but still it appears that it is Stewart Downing who is the main culprit. He must have tricked the Reds into buying him for so much. There’s also the false belief that professional footballers do not care about their careers. That somehow, the sport they have played from such an early age, does not actually matter to them. Aside from these general perceptions about footballers, Downing’s case is telling when contrasted with Carroll’s. The big target man cost £35 million but there is still a level of patience left with the striker. It may well be that he will return to Liverpool and resume his career there. Overall, the fans still appear eager for him to succeed. Conversely, the fans almost take pleasure when Rodgers pushes Downing out of the squad. It was even more uplifting when they saw the complete dearth of quality that had replaced him on the bench. The likes of Assaidi and Joe Cole were substitutes against Stoke while 18-year-old Suso started. It is understandable that Downing may be disliked. Obviously his poor form is a big reason, but Carroll’s was hardly any better. Many football fans still like to see ‘macho’ performances from their players. Downing’s slight frame, lack of aggression in his tackling or in his abuse of the referee fails to win over the crowd. For all of Carroll’s utterly woeful displays, he would kick people, often needlessly foul and of course, dish out some much required abuse to officials when the realisation of his own inadequacy was too much to control. Indeed, after Downing delivered a man-of-the-match display in the League Cup final, Jamie Carragher deemed it necessary to tell the viewers that Carroll’s goal was worth the £35 million Liverpool spent on him. Let’s hope that ‘Carra’ never owns a football club.
This is not to excuse Downing for his poor form since his arrival at Liverpool. Like all players, he must take responsibility for how he plays. And Downing certainly has ability. Any player who has £32 million spent on him in just two transfers has obviously had some success. Rightly, Downing has been labelled a ‘confidence player’. Maybe the pressure of playing for Liverpool is just too much. Similarly his England career has been hampered by his lack of mental resolve. However, Brendan Rodgers, a man who clearly is not in need of any more confidence, has given up on his winger. Furthermore, it looks as though Rodgers is making an example of Downing, publicly questioning his commitment by calling him ‘lazy’. Rodgers proclaims that he considers all of his players to be his sons. If that were the case, he would have received a few visits from social services recently. All managers surely pride themselves on their ability to get the best out of players, but the much-loved Brendan Rodgers has faced no criticism regarding Downing. It’s interesting that Downing, who won Aston Villa’s players’ player, fans’ player and sponsors’ player of the season in a team which boasted Ashley Young, Kyle Walker, Brad Friedel, Darren Bent and Stiliyan Petrov, has been cast aside by Rodgers. Downing has proven in the past that he has the pace and the technical quality to be an excellent Premier League winger. And crucially for Liverpool, considering their meagre squad, he also has the ability to play on either flank – he mainly played on the right for Aston Villa.
It is also worth pointing out that Downing’s lack of assists in the 2011-12 campaign was never associated with Carroll’s lack of finishing. Alan Shearer happily told the world that if Carroll ‘got the service’ he would score the goals. Most symbolic of this was actually in England’s warm-up match against Norway when Downing was a surprise starter. In the opening five minutes, Downing beat the full-back before delivering a gift of a cross to Carroll. Carroll, having received ‘the service’ then managed to miss with an inexcusably terrible header. Likewise, Suarez was also criticised for missing numerous golden opportunities last season, but this was never highlighted when Downing was castigated for failing to provide assists.
Downing is likely to be sold in January and under less pressure will become a great asset for another Premier League outfit. However, Rodgers’ felt need to make an example of a player may have been a mistake. With Borini injured, Rodgers may have to rely on the man he has publicly criticised. Moreover, cash-strapped Liverpool may have to sell Downing for few million less than they planned if Rodgers continues to treat him – supposedly – like his own son.