Stewart Downing: 4 Reasons He Has Flopped at Liverpool
Downing had an almost decade-long career behind him: He was an established member of the England squad, and he was coming off the best season of his career. It seemed like he was finally ready to prove himself at a top club after initially displaying great talent at Middlesbrough in the early '00s and then progressing further with Villa.
He had made his breakthrough at Middlesbrough during the 2001-02 season and finally became a regular at his boyhood club in 2003. He quickly gained acclaim for his cultured left foot and old-fashioned wing play, something people had long claimed the English national team was crying out for.
He made his international debut in 2005 and became a squad regular in 2006, something he has generally been since barring injury.
He stayed at Middlesbrough until 2009 when Martin O'Neill splashed £12 million to bring him to Aston Villa. This was seen as a step up for Downing as Villa were generally seen as a team who were building towards challenging for the top four. Unfortunately for Downing and Villa, it didn't work out that way and a real run at the top four was never forthcoming.
Downing spent two years with the Birmingham-based club before Liverpool came calling for him. He forced the move through when Villa seemed determined to keep him and signed on the dotted line on 15 July 2011.
Obviously things have not worked out for Downing since, and his days at Liverpool appear to be numbered as he has gone from first-choice winger in the opening league match of this season to not even making the bench for the latest match against Stoke.
Downing's fall from grace has been gradual as he had a desperately disappointing season last year and generally lost the backing of most Liverpool fans. Things have not improved in any way this season, and he now finds himself staring at the Anfield exit sign.
There are many reasons that can explain why Downing has flopped at Liverpool; here are four of them.
Too Much Pressure
No matter what way you look at it £20 million is a lot of money. It was also far more than Downing was worth. At best he was worth the £12million that Villa had paid for him two years previously.
Arriving at one of the world's biggest clubs as one of the most expensive players in the clubs history is always going to put pressure on a player. Arriving at Liverpool as Kenny Dalglish's big-money summer signing increases that massively.
He was signed at a time when Liverpool fans were clamoring for the services of Spanish magician Juan Mata. Mata was seen as the ideal player to compliment Uruguayan star Luis Suarez, but Dalglish had another plan in mind.
He decided to go for an old-fashioned, chalk-on-the-boots winger in Downing. Someone who would hug the touchline, make themselves available to receive the ball and sling crosses into the box with minimum fuss.
Downing was seen as the winger to provide service for £35 million striker Andy Carroll. Between them, some felt, they would fire Liverpool to the promised land. Downing's wand of a left foot paired with Carroll's fantastic aerial ability. A match made in heaven surely.
Not so much. Downing's Liverpool career began with a mazey run and a rasping 25-yard shot that clattered the crossbar at the Annie Road End of Anfield. That incident would largely define his Liverpool career as well as Liverpool's 2011-12 season.
Had that shot gone in, then who knows what might have happened to Downing's Liverpool career, and indeed Liverpool's season on the whole. But it didn't. And it, and the rest of that match would set the tone on what was to occur between then and the end of May 2012.
Dominating home matches, failing to take chances and hitting the woodwork with gay abandon.
I should also mention that Liverpool missed a penalty in that match, a feat that would repeat far too often throughout the season.
In fact, if you slept through Liverpool's 2011-12 season and want to find out what went wrong, don't bother watching anything other than that Sunderland match because it is the entire season in 90 minutes.
The teams failure raised the already unbearable pressure on the new signings and Downing was unable to meet the expectations placed on him by the fans. While those expectations may have been unfair and unrealistic, in truth Downing never even came close.
Chronic Lack of Confidence
One thing that is generally common among players who command large transfer fees is that they tend to be very confident in their own abilities and even if they struggle at first, they are always confident that they can find their best form.
That's not the case with Downing who has never been the most self-confident of footballers dating back to his time at Middlesbrough. He has never been the type of player who can spark himself out of a run of poor form with a moment of genius, he's more the slow-and-steady improvement type.
That type of mentality was always going to give him problems at a club like Liverpool with expectant fans. As Downing's form suffered, his confidence dropped and in the ultimate vicious circle, which caused his performances to get even worse. Care to guess what happened when his performances hit rock bottom? His confidence disappeared completely.
He wasn't exactly helped by his teammates. Downing did manage to create a lot of chance for his team throughout the season.
He just needed them to start converting a few of them to get him a few assists on the board. Had he gotten them, his confidence would likely have picked up and his form would have followed it.
Unfortunately for Downing, Luis Suarez was quite wasteful in front of goal converting only 10 percent of his chances all season. Suarez wasn't the only one who was wasteful, and he wasn't really the one Downing was bought to create chances for.
That was Andy Carroll.
Carroll had an abysmal season converting only 5 percent of chances, scoring only four league goals and generally being dreadful until April when he was laughed off the pitch at Newcastle. After that Carroll did improve, but by then it was too late for Downing. His season was a write-off at that stage.
Downing's end-of-season league report listed no goals scored, no assists. For a winger who had come off the best season of his career at Aston Villa, this was a total confidence killer and Downing looked like a player who really didn't want to play football anymore by mid-March. He still had that look at the start of this season.
Not Suited to Style of Play
Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool played a style of football and used a system that should have suited Stewart Downing down to the ground. He didn't perform but kept his place week after week.
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool do not play a style of football and do not use a system that suits Downing. He has not performed and has been dropped from the match day 18.
The difference in managerial decisions aside, the fact that Downing failed to perform in a system that was practically custom made for him does not bode well for him in terms of impressing in Brendan Rodgers system.
Rodgers wants his attacking players to be brave with the ball. He wants them to back themselves and be creative. Raheem Sterling, Suso and of course Luis Suarez are always happy to back themselves. These players ooze confidence.
Downing, as mentioned, is not a player with natural confidence, and his unwillingness to try to create things off the cuff is a major issue in the current system.
At the end of the day, it's simply a matter of Downing having a set position and that position being nonexistent in the Brendan Rodgers style of play.
Downing is a winger, plain and simple.
Contrary to what some may think, Rodgers doesn't play with wingers. He plays with two inside forwards, one of whom is expected to be a goalscorer and the other a playmaker. Downing is neither and has not been able to fit into the Rodgers way of playing.
His love of the 15-yard pass back to the fullback or infield to a midfielder really limits Liverpool's ability to penetrate defenses and must infuriate Rodgers. It clearly has because Downing has fallen so far down the pecking order.
With Rodgers not likely to change his system, and Downing not likely to adapt his game, it looks extremely unlikely that he will fit in and that can only end one way. Stewart Downing's departure from Anfield, possibly as soon as January.
Good but Ultimately Not Good Enough
Let me be very clear on something: Stewart Downing is a good football player. That is an undeniable fact.
It is not possible to have a career like he has had without being a good football player.
There are plenty of people who will tell you that he is rubbish, that he's a poor player or whatever else. Ignore those people. Downing is a good player.
Think of the best player you played with at school or for your local team. Remember how good he was. Then imagine him being 10 to 15 times better. That's how much better than the best player you played with Stewart Downing is. And that might be understating it.
So, Downing is a good player. The problem is that he simply isn't good enough for Liverpool.
Liverpool don't want good players, they want and need great players.
Great players come in three groups.
The first group are the super talented players who let their ability to do the talking and can have a great career based on it. Fernando Torres was one of these players, as was Xabi Alonso.
The second group are good players with limitations in their game but who also possess incredible mental strength and determination and use that mental strength to overcome their limitations. Jamie Carragher, Jimmy Case and Tommy Smith are three players of this type who have represented Liverpool down the years.
The third group is the smallest group. These are the super talented players with incredible mental strength and determination. These are few and far between but Liverpool have been blessed to have had a number of them. Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez to name just four.
Stewart Downing doesn't fit into any of these categories, and at 28 he's never going to improve enough to fit into any of them.
He's a good footballer, but he's not a great footballer and Liverpool need great footballers.
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