So, another of this summer’s drawn out transfer window sagas came to an end last night when Aston Villa finally accepted Liverpool’s bid for left-winger Stewart Downing, for a fee of around £20 million. After rejecting the Anfield club’s previous bids, Villa were left with little room to manoeuvre as Downing made it clear he wanted to join the Red’s, handing in a written transfer request. The signing ends what Liverpool have seemingly craved for many a year; a genuine winger.
Much has been made about the apparent need of width at Anfield for a number of years now, but that need intensified once big centre-forward Andy Carroll walked through the Shankly Gates back in January. Wide-men became a necessity, if Liverpool were to take full advantage of their record signing’s main attributes.
Whilst Liverpool seemed to be in the market for their old school wide-man, instead they were linked with a steady stream of central-midfielders. Liverpool were already overstaffed in this department and the addition of Charlie Adam increased the numbers. They had already signed a wide-man of course…well sort of, in Jordan Henderson, but the lack of a genuine winger added to the fans frustrations. Who would supply the new strikers without any width? However, if Liverpool were to just sign wingers, they would risk themselves becoming too one-dimensional. Over the last few seasons, Liverpool have lacked creativity in wide areas – but to solely concentrate on improving that area would then run the risk of not increasing the quality and inventiveness from a central area also. That is what the signing of Adam brings. With the eventual arrival of a genuine winger in Downing, Liverpool are no longer reliant on just one method of attack – they now have two. Also, in Adam they have a new supply line to the wings, and to Downing; the man who they hope will, in turn, supply the strikers.
But it is Downing’s price, that was (and still is) a major gripe for many Liverpool fans, during the pursuit (and now signing). It is too high for somebody who’s seen as only a ‘slightly above- average Premier League player’, in many a fans eyes. In the normal course of things, this may be true. However, we all know that when it comes to English players, the Premier League market is far from normal. That price-point is now (unfortunately) commonplace (especially when certain clubs are looking to buy), and such fees should now just be looked at as ‘incidental’ if a club really wants a particular player. Many fans also felt uninspired by the apparent interest in Downing, and instead yearned for a more exotic, exciting signing like Valencia’s Juan Mata, who Liverpool seemed to be chasing at one point, and is rumoured to be available for a similar price. Mata, a Spanish under-21 star, is indeed a quality player – creative, full of tricks and has outstanding technique. He can unlock many defences with his repertoire of skills from the advanced attacking roles he is given. However, there lies the main reason Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish chose to pursue Downing over the Mata, and the main advantage the Englishman has over the little Spaniard – he is a genuine wide-man; and Dalglish craved a winger. Mata is intricate in his build-up play and can operate anywhere across the frontline; left, right and centrally – in the ‘hole’, similar to say, Liverpool’s former Spanish bag of tricks, Luis Garcia. But Dalglish wanted a specialized winger – someone with pace, who is direct and whips-in crosses for the strikers; and that is Stewart Downing. Besides, with rumours that it is Comolli who wants to sign Mata, many fans wish may still yet be granted.
It is also worth noting, and has already been pointed out in many a previous article, that Downing (who turns 27 on Friday) was Villa’s Player of the Year last season, scoring 8 goals from midfield and provided numerous assists, which earned him an England recall in the process. If Ashley Young, who left Villa a month before, cost £16 million, then the market would dictate that a player who was currently rated higher, go for more. The price will obviously be a talking point for months to come, as it is with every expensive purchase Liverpool make. The attraction to debate such things is not unwarranted. They are a club where lots of high-priced signings have been made, only to then see the said player not justify their hefty price-tag during their time on Merseyside. In that sense Downing is yet another expensive gamble – but if he delivers, it will be because he finally gave Liverpool wings.
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