Liverpool have offloaded winger Stewart Downing to West Ham on a £6m deal after a disappointing career at the club. Downing was signed by former manager Kenny Dalglish in July of 2011 for a £20 million fee in a summer of big spending for Liverpool. Dalglish signed Downing with the idea that he would provide the ammunition for Andy Carroll, who would need a supply of crosses for his style of play and heading ability.
But Carroll was injured and struggled for fitness during most of his spell at Anfield, and Downing struggled to settle in at Liverpool and find his confidence. Carroll’s absence from the team didn’t help Downing either, because when he did deliver crosses, there was no target man in the box to get on the end of his deliveries. At West Ham, Downing could finally put his skills to good use with a renewed partnership with Carroll that could bring much success to the club.
Dalglish did spend a lot of money during his second season in charge at Anfield and the wages for players escalated too. But at the end of last season, Liverpool’s American owners decided to end Dalglish’s spell as manager at Anfield and brought in a young promising manager in Brendan Rodgers from Swansea City to take Liverpool forward. But since Dalglish’s departure, Liverpool’s owners have altered their strategy under Brendan Rodgers by reducing the wage bill. Rodgers had moved high earners on to other clubs and brought in new players on lower wages. Joe Cole, Andy Carroll, Pepe Reina, and now Stewart Downing were all big earners and have now been moved out.
Downing looked to be an exciting acquisition at the time; an experienced England international who played on the wing was the ideal player Liverpool were looking for at the time when they had very few wide men. But the Englishman struggled at Liverpool and only contributed to seven goals in 91 outings for the club. It was a poor return for such an expensive signing, who was reportedly receiving a £80,000 salary per week.
Downing’s highlight during his two-year Spell at Anfield was his man of the match performance – his only honor with the club – as Liverpool defeated Cardiff City in last year’s League Cup Final. Far too often, Downing would fail to deliver a telling ball into the opposition penalty area for Liverpool’s strikers. Even when Downing cut inside from the right flank to create a shooting opportunity on his favored left foot, he very rarely hit the target, never mind score.
Brendan Rodgers criticized Downing shortly after becoming manager at Anfield. He even started young Raheem Sterling on the wing in preference to Downing at the start of the season. But Rodgers brought Downing back into the side later in the season, although he revealed in December that Downing would leave the club. Downing became a regular for the remainder of the season, but not always in his familiar role on the wing; Rodgers frequently used Downing as a left-back. Downing was even used a lot during Liverpool’s pre-season and featured for 70 minutes on Saturday against Celtic in Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat in Dublin.
In fairness to Downing, his performances were much better last season than in his first season with the club. His work rate was impressive and he looked to be a more confident player. But despite Downing’s endeavor and new found confidence, Downing is a player that lacks “heart,” the heart to go in where it hurts to score a goal, the heart to not shirk a tackle. But most importantly – especially for a player who plays on the wing – is the heart to take a defender on and get to the bye-line; Downing never did this enough at Liverpool.
Liverpool never got their money’s worth from Downing and decided to cut their losses on an expensive failure with a costly weekly wage. You can’t fault Downing’s effort, but he just wasn’t good enough for Liverpool, and he now continues his career alongside another Liverpool failure, Andy Carroll, at West Ham. Maybe Downing and Carroll can strike up the relationship at West Ham that Kenny Dalglish hoped they would strike up at Liverpool. They are getting a second chance, although not at a completely different club
Brendan Rodgers is starting to shape his own team by transferring players that don’t fit into his style of play, and by bringing in players that do. Rodgers has allowed another player with a wealth of experience to leave the club and Liverpool now have a very young squad with not many “old heads,” as Liverpool look to the youth to take them forward. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Rodgers is gradually building his empire with young, enthusiastic players that he hopes will take Liverpool back to where they belong. Only time will tell if Rodgers’ youngsters can take Liverpool forward as the new season begins on Saturday.
Written by Jamie McLaughlin