I was sat on the Kop for Stewart Downing’s first home game for Liverpool where he dribbled past several players, unleashed an outstanding strike that hit the bar, before the whole ground gasped and applauded in awe. We thought we had a real player on our hands. I’ll always remember a shout from someone behind me: “That was like something from John Barnes!”.
Unfortunately, yet not drastically, we didn’t see as much of this type of play as we anticipated. In terms of Liverpool, the type of play that we like to see is the type that Brendan Rodgers has brought in during the past few years – and it’s definitely worked for us so far. When Downing was brought in, the idea was for him to constantly deliver crosses into the box for Andy Carroll. And although we had Suarez, we didn’t even see the best of him because what was being focussed on didn’t naturally compliment his game.
You could say that the price tag was part of the reason why Downing’s Liverpool career never really shone as much as it potentially could have. Even though this may be deemed as a recurring excuse, £20m for a winger was a hefty price. We wanted to see him taking on defenders more often, and not being solely restricted to the right hand side. We wanted to see the creative and dynamic side to Stewart Downing that we had witnessed before.
The first days of his time at Liverpool were probably the best we saw of him. That isn’t a big criticism but the we were bringing in players like Sturridge and Coutinho and it was a different era that we were entering into. There were also good days to look back on during Downing’s time at Liverpool. He contributed to the League Cup victory in 2012 with a man of the match performance, a cup that gave the fans a great day out at Wembley but it wasn’t enough for Kenny Dalglish to retain his job.
We did expect more of a contribution in terms of assists and goals from Downing because that’s what he was brought in for. He was deemed as the ‘provider’. When he moved to West Ham, it was genuinely the best move for all parties. Our style of play was evolving and Downing is the type of player who needs game time. In total, he scored seven goals and provided 11 assists in 91 appearances for Liverpool, figures that we all hoped would have been more.
I think Stewart Downing did a job for us when we needed to experiment with the Carroll/Suarez partnership at the time when he first joined. It worked in some cases but we needed to get back into the Champions League as quickly as possible, and unfortunately it didn’t prove to be a winning formula. We’ve all seen what Stewart Downing can do in terms of providing assists and creating opportunities, but in general, him and Liverpool just weren’t a long-term fit.