Life is full of great moments, like goats kicking unpleasant children in the abdomen, causing them to them sick up a hastily devoured Kinder Egg. Life is also full of desperate disappointments, like the realisation that Bruce Willis is a wanker in real life. Everything else can be classified broadly in the genus of ‘not bothered’.
The entire professional career of Stewart Downing could pretty much have been filed in the latter category. At his best he elicited a semi-reluctant nod of the head rather than a delirious soiling of the pants. At his worst he received little more than a disinterested tut or a fleeting guffaw.
I suppose that’s just the sort of player we thought him to be, just good enough to be on the fringes of the collective consciousness but never good enough to make fans get his face badly tattooed onto their grotesquely stretched scrotums.
“[Brendan] Rodgers was the one manager I had problems with. I found it very difficult and the way it was handled – to come out in the papers and basically slag off your player by saying you don’t try – that was poor really. That kind of thing can tarnish a player’s reputation. If fans read that you don’t try, it gives the wrong impression…. When that came out, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.” – Stewart Downing on his time at Anfield.
But right now Stewart Downing is in very serious danger of generating something more than his own unique brand of blah. He’s actually running the very real risk of being highly, even universally, praised.
This season – with Sam Allardyce very much under orders to produce football that’s more attractive to watch than two crows fighting in a wheelie bin – Stewart Downing has been relieved of the responsibility for firing crosses at the homeless man who has kidnapped, and is now impersonating, Andy Carroll. Downing now finds himself at the heart of this dynamic new West Ham and has so far looked, frankly, superb.
The laborious and indecisive performances that saw him heavily criticised for both England and Liverpool have been replaced with a delightful craftiness that can leave defences as lifeless as a Michael Owen anecdote about the time he thought his kettle was broken but it wasn’t.
Downing On The Up
A particularly startling stat doing the rounds at the moment reveals that no Englishman has created more chances in the Premier League than Stewart Downing since the start of the 2013/14 season. Even taking into account set pieces, that’s good going, especially for someone whose passes often find themselves cannoning off Carlton Cole’s face, neck, shin, elbows and pancreas.
“I don’t think there is anybody playing in midfield that is better than Stewart Downing,” – Sam Allardyce on Downing’s early season form.
There is now a murmur, if not a clamber, for an England recall for Downing. Hasty, not to mention unlikely, as that may seem there are few English players who have thrived in that creative, central role quite so obviously as Downing this season. So while he may not be your favourite – and while you may have at some point compared him unfavorably to a bag of dead, wet bees – his improvement deserves some acknowledgement. I’m not saying we should all go and get the ball bag tattoo. I’m just saying we should probably admit he’s playing well.