After taking a year to really settle in at Upton Park, Stewart Downing looks like a totally different player for West Ham United this season. The 30-year-old has scored three times so far this campaign, including the equaliser in the Hammers’ 1-1 draw at Sunderland on Saturday.
But what’s the difference with Downing this year compared to the last few? Obviously it helps when the team are doing so well, and West Ham have had a superb campaign so far. The Hammers sit in fourth place in the Premier League, with Downing being one of the major catalysts for their lofty position. Prior to this season, the wide-man had only scored one goal for the east London club – but goals against Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Sunderland have already tripled his tally this term.
Downing’s performances at the Boleyn Ground haven’t gone unnoticed by Roy Hodgson either. The former Middlesbrough and Aston Villa winger was called up to the England squad in November, for games against Slovenia and Scotland. Despite being an unused sub against Slovenia, Downing made his first Three Lions appearance for over two years – in the 3-1 win over Scotland at Cetlic Park on November 18th.
The 30-year-old made the switch to Upton Park from Liverpool in August 2013. In his two years at Anfield, things didn’t really work out for him with the Merseyside club – Downing only scored seven goals in 66 league and cup games for the Reds. Despite Liverpool forking out £20m for his services two years prior, the Reds sold Downing to West Ham for a cut price of just £5m.
But the midfielder has gone on to prove just how good a deal the Hammers got for him. He has already made 46 league and cup appearances since making the move to Upton Park, and he has shown more of the form from his days with Middlesbrough and Villa that made him so popular in his early career.
The England international, who has now been capped 35 times for his country, has proved this season just how important he is to Sam Allardyce’s side. The West Ham boss has got the perfect blend of youth and experience, and was very shrewd in the summer with his signings. This term, Allardyce has moved Downing to a more central position. He may not have the legs of yesteryear, but he is flourishing in his new role. The move has turned out to be a stroke of genius from the West Ham boss, and Downing looks as though he has a new lease of life. Also playing with the likes of Diafra Sakho, Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Alex Song just to name a few – Downing is really benefiting from his new position in West Ham’s new look side.
Before the season started, many of the Hammers fans were calling for Big Sam’s head, and the experts had them down for another season of struggle. But after the success of the summer signings, and the fact his experienced players have performed so well, there is no reason why West Ham can’t be this seasons surprise package and go on to secure European football.
Downing showed plenty of promise in his younger years and was tipped to go on to become an outstanding winger. But his time at Anfield really stunted his development, to the point that he had been written off in his peak years. Yet with his new central role, he has added a new dimension to his game. The 30-year-old is slowly but surely getting back to his best, and he is a major part of why the Hammers are flying so high this campaign.