When Stewart Downing got injured, and was relegated with Middlesbrough at the end of last season, everything seemed pretty bleak for the England left winger. His fractured foot which he sustained when playing for Middlesbrough against Villa in the penultimate game of last season, would no doubt have made him less attractive to possible suitors in the Premier League. The price tag put on Downing’s head would have put off buyers further still and combined with his long term injury, it would not have been surprising if the midfielder was travelling to play QPR with Boro this weekend. Downing would certainly have not had the ambition of playing for England at next summer’s World Cup if he had been toiling on Teesside down in the Championship, but now returned from his foot injury, Downing seems optimistic about his chances:
The aim for me is the World Cup, but it probably is for six or seven of our team. They all want to be involved so it’s going to be tough, but it’s a good challenge.
His team is now of course, Aston Villa. There were no doubt a few raised eyebrows in the summer when Martin O’Neill acquired the England winger for an estimated £12million, not least due to his long term injury, but also due to the fact that O’Neill already had a young talented, fast left winger in Ashley Young. Downing is directly competing with Young for a place in both the Villa starting eleven and for a place on the plane to South Africa. It is definitely time to prove his worth at a bigger club and on a bigger stage, something he will need to do if he wants to dislodge Young in the starting eleven for Villa.
It is certainly not a given that Downing will start every match for Villa, something which may harm rather than help his England chances. Although it is pretty clear that Downing is still in the thoughts of the England manager. Downing expressed his delight when talking about when Fabio Capello called him:
He said, ‘Don’t rush yourself’ in case I break down, but I haven’t done, that gives me confidence. Once he spoke to me, it shows I am still part of his plans, so the only thing I can do is keep playing well and score goals.
It has certainly been a slow return to fitness, he had 20 minutes against Burnley in November and only started his first match against Portsmouth in the Carling Cup quarter final a couple of nights ago. From now on though, he must hit the ground running if he wants to dislodge the talented Young from the left wing and snatch a place in the England squad. The start of his campaign was probably as ideal as he could have imagined as he scored on his return to first team action in the 4-2 victory against Pompey.
Downing no doubt has the talent to excel as one of many wingers at Aston Villa, but the question will be whether he can not only prove himself in the claret and blue that he is capable of putting high quality performances week in, week out but also that he merits a start ahead of the likes of Ashley Young. If he doesn’t, any thoughts of getting into the World Cup squad must be put on the back burner, before a fight for a place in England colours, he must first fight, now he has returned to fitness, to prove he merits his £12m price tag and deserves to be in the Villa first team every match.