It was the feel-good story of the summer of 2022 as we hijacked Flynn Downes’ move from Swansea to Crystal Palace to bring the boyhood West Ham fan home. One year later, though, the Brentwood-born midfielder finds himself back into the Championship following a loan move to Southampton after struggling to break his way into David Moyes’ plans last season.
The former Ipswich Town youngster would’ve fancied his chances of getting more first-team minutes following the departure of Declan Rice. But after failing to nail his place in the side down last year and struggling to take his opportunities in pre-season, a move away from east London always looked the most likely outcome for the flying Flynn.
The arrival of James Ward-Prowse from Southampton opened up the gateway for the former Swansea man to link back up with his ex-Swans manager Russell Martin, who was disappointed to lose the midfielder to West Ham, was keen to bring him to the South Coast.
Downes immediately repaid his manager’s faith in him, impressing on his debut in Southampton’s 2-1 success over Queens Park Rangers. He completed an impressive 116 passes out of 117 after coming on as a first-half substitute as the Saints’ high possession football is bound to prove to be more of a fit for Downes than his time at West Ham under Moyes.
It was a frustrating start to his West Ham United career. Moyes found it hard to find opportunities for Downes to shine. Indeed, most of his time in a claret and blue shirt came in games against the top-six typically away from the London Stadium.
Flynn started games at Anfield and Old Trafford during his early days at the club and did pretty well, often earning praise from the manager for his typically hard-working displays. The 24-year-old’s main chances to shine came in the early stages of the Hammers successful Conference League campaign.
Again, he impressed with his high-energy, tough-tackling style, but ultimately lacked that next level to make him a Premier League regular. He struggled positionally at times and his limited technique meant he found regular football hard to come by in the Premier League.
He was ultimately competing with Tomas Soucek for that final place in the team with Paqueta and Rice obvious starters when the pair were fit. Whilst Soucek didn’t have a stellar season last year, he offered more than Downes, particularly for a David Moyes side.
Soucek has more physical attributes and has that height advantage over Flynn. Moyes would rather see the Czech challenging for an aerial ball than the young Englishman. One thing Downes does bring to the table is passion and heart. He could well find his way back into the manager’s plans for a couple of reasons.
A strong season under his belt at Southampton, honing his creativity skills under a manager that encourages passing football could provide food for thought for our coaching team. If he can gain some extra muscle and enjoy a positive season under Russell Martin, I can see him developing into a low-level Premier League player, or a fringe player at a top-ten club.
Whether that is at West Ham remains to be seen as I am sure the club are looking to push onto that next level. With Tim Steidten piloting West Ham’s future now, he may feel that he can unearth a gem that will offer what Downes does and more.
I often wonder whether Flynn regrets making the decision to join the Hammers instead of Crystal Palace. But to lift that Conference League trophy for his boyhood club must have been a dream come true for him and would have made all those frustrations worthwhile.
I, along with most of the Hammers faithful, will be keeping a keen eye on his progress this season at St Mary’s. It would be lovely for him to make it back-to-back summers lifting a trophy.
SAINTS FANS WELCOME ‘FAB FLYNN’
Southampton supporters Mike Diver and Glen de la Cour say their fanbase is delighted to have Downes on loan for this season. Mike says: ‘His arrival has been well-received by Saints fans, knowing how he blossomed under Russell Martin at Swansea. He is a perfect fit for our manager’s demanding style of play. It’ll be interesting to see how Downes complements Will Smallbone, the pair’s presence hopefully freeing our exciting Argentinian Charly Alcaraz to maraud forward more frequently – as he did, with Ward-Prowse behind him.’
Glen continued: ‘Whilst he did not set the Premier League alight at West Ham last season, he has proven experience in the Championship and significantly, in a team managed by Russell Martin. Whilst he doesn’t replace JWP in terms of style of player and goals/assists, he gives us a bit of grunt and personality in midfield which has been missing at times this season already, where at times we have been just too nice.
Glen adds: ‘With the profile of players that West Ham are signing at the moment, I can see Flynn being available to buy next summer so if we get promoted, this could well be a great move for everyone, the player, Saints and West Ham for that matter.’