We’ve all heard the unfortunate stat about Stuart Downing’s creative prowess in one particular season. If you haven’t, I’ll remind you – in his 2011/12 season with Liverpool, he failed to provide any assists, including to target man Andy Carroll, despite playing 36 games for the Reds.
Doesn’t sound great does it? As a lone stat, this sounds poor for a man who charges up and down the wing, whipping in crosses, but the blame can’t solely lay on him. Pondering this fact prompted me to try and find some positives about the England international by the way of statistics and opinions on the 29 year old. West Ham is Downing’s fourth Premier League club, and I think it’s fair to say he’s been highly thought of at most.
Despite a slow start with Middlesbrough, he lit up the league and ended up with an England call up from Sven. He also received high praise from Lazio’s Fernando Couto following an impressive UEFA Cup performance. Although he didn’t have a massive assist total in the Premier League for Aston Villa (10 in 63 appearances) he did score 9 and was subsequently valued at around £20 million by Villa.
This was the reported fee he was believed to join Liverpool for. Of course, he’s an English player, so this probably isn’t a true reflection of his value but nonetheless, Liverpool wanted him enough to pay the price.
On the last day of that 2011/12 season at Liverpool, Downing hit the bar with his last shot of the campaign. In his entire Liverpool career, he managed 123 shots on goal, three of which were converted. Ok, so that’s a conversion rate of 2.4%, but let’s compare that to “veteran striker” Carlton Cole whose 2012/13 campaign saw him as the worst striker in the league with a conversion rate of 6%.
We didn’t buy Downing for goals but to think that he’s almost half as good as a man who may become our main striker is interesting to say the least. If we want to compare Downing’s success on the wing, the obvious comparison would be to Matt Jarvis. Unfortunately for Downing, Jarvis came out of last season with the most flattering title of “best crosser in the league” or words to that effect! Yes, Jarvis had the most successful crosses in the league in 2012/13, so Downing has got to go some to beat that. I quite like the idea of competing crossers though.
Thanks to Jarvis’ efforts last season, West Ham had the highest percentage of crosses that found teammates with a 24.5% success rate. Liverpool, interestingly, were fourth from bottom with 14.5%. Not a glowing review, I know. Unfortunately, this article was planned before the news that Andy Carroll had suffered a serious looking injury in training for his return.
My aim was to shout from the rooftops that West Ham have finally got some great prospects with tricky wingers and a hungry target man, but that’s all changed. The signing of Mladen Petri will provide Downing with a goal poacher to aim at so we can only keep our fingers crossed that an understanding partnership will blossom pretty sharpish.
As any good West Ham signing tends to be, Downing has been plagued with injuries, which may be just one contributing factor to his slightly more modest £6 million price tag this time around (nearing 30 and lacking high assist numbers may be the others) but to his credit, he has a reputation for being a persistent tryer. I know sometimes that’s not enough but if Downing can keep fit and Carroll can eventually do likewise, his determination will pay off.
Unlike so many of our signings, Downing has been ever present in the Premier League. He hasn’t come from some far away land with no experience and he isn’t nearing 40 years old. His stats may not put the fear into the opposition, but like so many players, I think Downing needs confidence. If regular football and a few assists can come fairly soon after his return from injury, he may prove to be worth his price tag (which is still less than Jarvis’, it has to be said). Want one last fact to keep you going? Stewart Downing is a keen DJ, and plays “funky house” tunes. Didn’t expect that, did you?