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As with Charlie Adam, Liverpool needed more than one attempt to secure Stewart Downing’s services. There were strong rumours about a move to Anfield following Middlesbrough’s relegation in 2009. Eventually the then 24-year-old elected to join Aston Villa. Halfway through a four-year contract with Villa the rumours resurfaced. In early July 2011 Liverpool made a bid believed to be fifteen million pounds. This was immediately rejected by the Midlands club and their new manager Alex McLeish declared that the winger would not be leaving Villa Park. However, History shows that every player has his price and Downing was no exception. When Liverpool came back with a higher offer, Villa allowed Downing to leave.
Stewart was born in Middlesbrough in 1984, supported his local League club as a child and graduated from Boro’s Academy with glowing reports. He flourished under the managership of Steve McLaren and played in three Premier League matches towards the end of the 2001-02 season. His opportunities were limited in the next season but in 2003-04 he made 27 League appearances, 7 of which came during a loan spell with Sunderland. He was also that season an unused substitute on the day Middlesbrough Football Club finally ended its long wait for a major trophy by defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the Football League cup final played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Downing became much more of a regular first-team player once his loan spell on Wearside was over, only once failing to make over 30 Premier League appearances in each of the next five seasons. The exception was the 2005-06 season, when a knee injury caused him to miss five months of football, although he had recovered in time to take his place in the UEFA cup final of 2006, in which Middlesbrough were comprehensively outclassed by Sevilla in Eindhoven. McLaren left to take on the England job but his replacement Gareth Southgate had similar faith in Stewart, who had by this time become a full England international player. Even when McLaren left following England’s failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships, Downing continued to be a regular member of the squads named by Fabio Capello. At the time of his move to Merseyside, Stewart had been ‘capped’ on twenty-seven occasions.
Even though he was under contract to Aston Villa, Stewart Downing had become one of the footballers most expected to move on during the summer of 2011. The Guardian’s Barney Ronay referred to him as “the most undervalued of English footballers: intelligent, scuttlingly forceful and with some refined touches in his versatile left foot.” Mr. Ronay also cited Downing as “conclusive proof of the ‘English premium’ clubs must pay for underpowered domestic maybes.” Journalists will have their views just as committed supporters will. To describe a seasoned international footballer as a ‘maybe’ seems somewhat uncharitable. If Kenny Dalglish was prepared to return early from Liverpool’s tour of the Far East with the purpose of finalising the Downing deal, that should tell us all we need to know. With his 27th birthday occurring the week after he passed his Liverpool medical, Stewart Downing has potentially the best years of his career still to come as he takes his place in the revival that Kenny Dalglish has brought to Liverpool Football Club following the short and unhappy reign of Roy Hodgson.
Written by Chris Wood ([email protected]
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