A lot of eyebrows were raised when Stewart Downing arrived at Liverpool in 2011 for a fee of £20m. After an encouraging start to his career at Middlesborough from 2001, followed by a decent spell under Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa, Downing was called up for England.
His career hit a stumbling block since arriving at Liverpool, however, and his price tag meant a lot was expected of him in his first season at Anfield. He was, after all, to be the man who would provide record signing Andy Carroll with the service to fire Liverpool into the Champions League.
That didn’t materialise, of course, as, in his first season, Downing provided no assists and failed to get on the score sheet – though, to be fair to the England winger, he can’t provide the pass and score himself - his team mates have to take some responsibility for that. And, in that sense, some of the criticism levelled at him has been unfair.
Downing now seems to be on his way out of Liverpool, for a quarter of the fee which took him to Merseyside, and I wonder whether the fans would have been so hostile to him if he'd arrived at Anfield at a more realistic price ?
In his time at the club, Downing was Man of the Match in Liverpool’s Carling Cup final win over Cardiff in 2012 – including scoring one of the penalties in the shoot-out. He also played a role in Liverpool’s run to the FA Cup final that same season, notably scoring the winner in the quarter final against Stoke City.
In Brendan Rodgers’ first season at the club, the Liverpool manager tried to operate Downing as a left-back. With the emergence of promising youngster Raheem Sterling, however, it seemed Downing's options were limited, though on his return to the side his form did pick up – finding the net on three occasions in the league.
But this pre-season, Downing has fallen further down the pecking order, after the impressive Phillipe Coutinho has nailed down a starting place across the front trio. Sterling and fellow youngster Jordan Ibe seemingly round out Rodgers preferred options.
Overall, Downing's form hasn’t been up to the standard of a £20m player. And while some of the criticism that he was not brave enough to take on a man was fair, sometimes he seemed to be blamed for the poor weather.
Downing is a solid player, but unfortunately his time at Liverpool will be deemed a failure thanks to the burden of such a hefty price tag.
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