We like extremes in English football: fantastic to awful, but with no middle ground.
Take Stewart Downing, ‘worst player in the history of the game’ if you listen to some, but revitalised and playing an important, if not yet vital, role for Liverpool.
Here’s an extract from a recent interview he did with Liverpool’s official website:
“A good run of games has been good for me. I think I’ve proven in my career that if I play regularly, I tend to give good and consistent performances.
It was disappointing because I was in and out, in and out and it was becoming a bit frustrating at times, but the best thing is playing in a winning team and playing with good players helps. There’s consistency in the whole team, which is helping my game as well.
My aim every game is to make the manager not leave me out. The only way to do that is to perform well. I’ve basically had nothing to lose in games and I think that’s helped me over the last few weeks and long may it continue.”
Downing’s first season at Anfield, and the first half of this one, were hardly spectacular, but what hurt his reputation more than anything else was the fee Liverpool paid for him. It’s logical that if a club pays nearly £20m for a player, then the supporters of that team will expect a contribution of similar value.
Say, for example, that Kenny Dalglish had paid Aston Villa £10m for Downing, how different might that perception be?
Downing will never be a world-beater, but in the right squad he can make a contribution. Against the very best teams in the league, he’s not going to be someone who wins games single-handedly – but that’s not really what he was bought for, it’s just the size of the fee which made it seem that way originally.
He’s not flashy, he’s not particularly exciting to watch, but he can come up with the occasional useful moment. Before the upturn in the player’s form, Brendan Rodgers seemed like he would be only too pleased to get rid of him, but don’t be surprised if he stays on Merseyside a little longer – now that Liverpool are finally getting something out of him, he provides cover and experience in an under-staffed squad.
He’s taken a lot of abuse, so it’s actually quite nice to see him discover some rhythm in his game at last. This is not Fernando Torres or someone who has sold one club out for another, it’s just a player who has struggled with the lights on a bigger stage. He’s a good professional and he deserves some luck.