Liverpool: Stewart Downing May Be Odd Man Out, but Reds Should Keep Him for Now

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  Stewart Downing of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers at Anfield on May 19, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Every summer since the last one is always regarded as the biggest for Liverpool, and this summer has been no exception.

The arrivals of Kolo Toure, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Simon Mignolet have taken the headlines, but admittedly not as many as the failure to prevent Henrikh Mkhitaryan from joining Borussia Dortmund and the ongoing, immensely tedious game being played concerning Luis Suarez’s future.

Ins and outs have always been part of these big summers that Liverpool have experienced, with hits and misses seemingly being made in equal measure.

At least now the “profile” that the Reds seem to be following regarding new arrivals is a relatively clear and pleasing one, but that hasn’t always been the case in the past―most notably the summer of 2011.

The “Moneyball” phrase that was thrown around back then as director of football Damien Comolli and manager Kenny Dalglish approached the transfer market was far-reaching and seemingly misunderstood by many, but it was clear that players were being signed based on a statistical approach, most notably Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing.

All of their numbers from the previous season were good ones―Adam as the fulcrum of a relegated Blackpool side, Henderson as the young, energetic influence at Sunderland and Downing as a creative, attacking force at mid-table Aston Villa. Could they transfer those stats to Liverpool? Well no, not immediately anyway.

Adam left a year later, and Henderson has struggled for recognition, but with the latter now having seemingly won manager Brendan Rodgers over, the most interesting case lies with Downing.

Earlier this week, the BBC's Phil McNulty reported West Ham United's interest in the Liverpool winger. The winger’s future at Liverpool has now come under yet more scrutiny than it received last season, when he revealed that Rodgers had told him he was free to leave the club, as reported by BBC Sport.

Showing terrific mental strength―although undoubtedly aided by injuries and Liverpool’s general lack of squad depth―he recovered from seemingly being shoved out of the exit door to make 45 appearances for the Reds in all competitions, playing his best football for the club as he did so.

Now, though, that West Ham interest and the arrivals of Aspas, Alberto and perhaps more have shrouded that future in yet more doubt.

Downing himself has been quick to respond to the new signings with a generic “I’ll fight for my place” statement on the club website, but whether or not that proves enough in the wake of potential new arrivals remains to be seen.

What is surely clear is that Downing will have a huge task on his hands if he wants to rack up similar appearance numbers to last season's―something that is extremely unlikely―but if he’s happy to stay and battle towards a first-team berth then the Reds should allow him to do that, for now at least.

He may be regarded as an odd man out in a Liverpool team seeking to commit themselves to attractive, possession-based football, but there is still room for his work-ethic at the club at the moment.

Crucially, four of the players he’ll be battling with for a place in the team―Aspas, Raheem Sterling, Jordon Ibe and Fabio Borini―are either untried at this level, still very young or both, and so the experience of a 34-times capped England international could come in handy.

Should Liverpool manage to attract a superstar to play in Downing’s position―and they are likely to be looking for one, especially given the Suarez situation―then everything will change, of course, and it will make much more sense to look to develop a Sterling or an Ibe as opposed to keeping a well-paid reserve on the staff, but Downing’s sale shouldn’t be rushed into.

Some Liverpool fans might not like to hear it, but right now their squad isn’t strong enough to let a player of his quality go.

Whether it eventually will be depends on just how big this latest in the long line of big summers becomes.