Stewart Downing - Liverpool's Mr Average?
With all the recent attention on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, Liverpool's new number 19 has failed to grab any of the headlines, good or bad.
Odd as this may seem, I think that's one of the reasons he was signed. If there is one thing that you are guaranteed with Stewart Downing, it's that he'll be available week-in week-out for selection with the minimum of fuss. Having succeeded a brittle Harry Kewell and a mentally deficient Ryan Babel in the left wing position, this is of course a welcome improvement.
Downing has completed over 40 games for his club in 5 of the last 7 seasons. However in 8 full seasons he only managed to get into double figures in the scoring charts once. He was voted Villa's Player of the season last year but in the previous season he only managed 2 goals and 1 assist in 25 league games.
In the last few weeks I've been bamboozled by statistics and charts from misguided bloggers "proving" to me that's he actually been just as good as Nani, Mata, Nasri, et al so far this term and that for the most part his wasteful colleagues are to blame. Hmmm, really? I don't think I need to go into too much detail as to why this is complete nonsense, or why a petition to ban detailed statistical analysis in football entirely is making more and more sense every season. In the simplest of terms while Downing has neither scored nor provided any assists yet this season, his rivals have.
Stewart Downing is not as good a footballer as Samir Nasri, Nani, Juan Mata, Ashley Young or anyone else you care to mention in his position at a club challenging for trophies. Only an idiot would argue this point. But at the same time he is not a bad footballer.
One of the biggest problems he has to overcome is that he is now at a big club and will be judged on a microscopic level each week. He will be expected to immediately settle in and in particular, to take responsibility when the chips are down. This hasn't exactly happened yet which has lead to some criticism of his performances.
I have no doubts that he will grow in confidence as the season progresses and eventually weigh in with his fair share of goals and assists. He is not the Juan Mata or the Eden Hazard that we were hoping would be bought last summer but in all honesty we are nowhere near the level that's required to attract that calibre of player. Yet.
What he can do for us is provide a level of stability and reliability in that position that we've not had for years. I am certainly much happier that we bought Downing as opposed to N'Zogbia, Marveaux, or any other half-baked cheapo options that were talked about. The bottom line on this is that Stewart Downing is a distinct improvement on what we've had in that position in recent years.
Thanks to Houllier and Benitez we've had to stomach an inordinate amount of horrible foreign muck occupying our left flank whereas now we have someone who will just get on with it. Not to mention the fact that Stewart has a very neat haircut too. An average haircut some will say, but there's a lot to be said for a short back and sides when we've put up with so many cheap perms.