Boro looking to returning hero to have the same impact as Paul Merson and spark Premier League promotion push.
Just over 18 years ago, with Middlesbrough licking their wounds following relegation out of the Premier League, it is fair to say things were downbeat on Teesside.
Suddenly, Boro chairman Steve Gibson opened his cheque book again, but, as we know, it is never that easy – however, if you pick it right then it looks that way. Back then Bryan Robson welcomed the shock signing of Paul Merson from Arsenal – and nine months later their Premier League return was secured as he inspired the team to promotion.
Fast forward to 2015 – Boro still licking their wounds from their play-off failure, every bit akin to a relegation - and here we are again.
Back in 1997, Boro pulled a Magic Man out of the hat, this time, perhaps something even better, the returning hero ready to drag his hometown club back to the top-flight.
Stewart Downing is making his return to The Riverside Stadium, the place his career was born and the club he loves.
When the links to Downing started to arise, nobody – probably with the expectation of Steve Gibson - could see how a Championship side could strike such a deal.
A £7million deal has been agreed with big wages, as revealed by HITC Sport, but this is more than just ambition – the signing represents so much more for the people of Teesside and shows just how close the club are to its people.
Gibson always insists that he is only the custodian, despite the fact he is also lumbered with the huge upkeep.
After the agonising play-off failure of last season, many could have forgiven Gibson for thinking just to go with what they had – which arguably could have been good enough for a push at the top-six, but that would be it.
Instead, once again he has said ‘no’ he wants Boro back in the big time, he has guided the club there on more than one occasion and he knows what it takes to get them there.
And now Downing arrives back as Boro’s biggest signing since their Premier League glory years when the likes of Juninho, Ravanelli, Boksic, Emerson, Ziege and Southgate et al all graced the club.
Curiously, Downing has never played outside of the top-flight, barring a loan stint with Sunderland earlier in his time with Boro.
The chance to lift Boro back to the Premier League was clearly an offer that tempted Downing and was too good to turn down.
Granted the Premier League options of Sunderland, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City hardly get the blood flowing for somebody like Downing – but let’s not forget his form last season for West Ham saw him recalled to the England squad.
Yes, he is gambling on his career. Yes, Steve Gibson is gambling on the club’s finances – but are they both doing the right thing? 99.9% of Boro fans will tell you: “Hell yeah!”
And a little message for Downing, what happened to Merson when he guided Boro back to the top-flight? No, not the acrimonious move to Aston Villa that summer – but the shock recall into England’s 1998 World Cup squad. Yes, a place at Euro 2016 looks a long way off, but then again so did the 30-year-old signing for Middlesbrough just a few weeks ago…