As the first weekend of the Premier League season draws ever closer today saw one former £20 million pound man move south for a significantly smaller fee this time around. I am of course talking about Stewart Downing, whose move to West Ham from Liverpool has cost the East Enders a reported £6 million. But what impact will his latest transfer have, on clubs both new and old as well as England, whom he has been capped 34 times for.
Firstly, let’s look at his former employer. Brendan Rodgers wasn’t responsible for Downing’s arrival at Anfield; Kenny Dalglish was, so the £14 million loss on the winger won’t fall at his feet. However Dalglish’s reputation, and perhaps legacy from his second spell with the Reds is likely to suffer further following the significant loss the club took earlier in the summer on Andy Carroll, who was also sold to the Hammers. However £6 million is a fee that shouldn’t be laughed at, especially when you consider other transfers that have been recently completed. Nacer Chadli, the 24 year-old Belgium international, changed hands for just £7 million last month when Tottenham brought him from Dutch side FC Twente. Downing is 29, so all things considered I’d opine that Liverpool got a good deal for a player whose only contribution to their cause last season was to fill in at left back and left midfield when first team players were unavailable. The extra cash could be used to bring in another player or two before the transfer window shuts, or it could even serve as a deterrent to Luis Suarez’s potential suitors. With some loose change in the bank Rodgers and owner John W Henry can afford to up Suarez’s asking price by a few bob, or play the “we don’t need the money” card. Although I think Suarez is extremely unlikely to be sold within the country during this window as it stands, the insurance of a little extra revenue can only help the club hold onto their most prized asset.
On the field, Downing’s departure should have minimal impact for the Reds. The signings of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge last January were a pretty strong indication that Downing had no Anfield future. Add in Fabio Borini’s return from injury and Liverpool appear well stocked out wide. Not that Rodgers favours a style that utilises traditional wingers, such as Downing. Having copied the continental style of play, much like the system Barcelona use, Rodgers favours mighty mites such as Coutinho who possess quick feet and an ability to move into central areas and remain effective, as opposed to hugging the touchline and whipping crosses into the path of an old fashioned number nine. This leads us nicely onto Downing’s new club, West Ham, who very much have an old fashioned number nine in the form of the aforementioned Andy Carroll.
Sam Allardyce signed Matt Jarvis from Wolves last summer to put balls on Carroll’s head, and by and large Jarvis did his job capably and consistently. However the Hammers lacked a second winger to roam the opposite flank, using the likes of Ricardo Vaz Te, Modibo Maiga, Matt Taylor and Joe Cole out wide at various points during the season. Vaz Te and Maiga struggled, while Taylor looked out of his depth in the top flight and although Cole played well he isn’t a natural winger and his fitness leaves something to be desired. Downing should start when he’s gained match fitness and is up to speed with Allardyce’s system. So where does that leave his new teammates? Taylor has been linked with a move away, and as I write it looks likely that he’ll be shown the door by August 31st. Maiga has surprisingly excelled during the pre-season, and following Carlton Cole’s departure he is currently the number two striker behind Carroll. Allardyce has said Carroll is not going to be fit for the clubs first game against Cardiff on Saturday, so chances are Maiga will get at least one opportunity to start up top before the pony tailed Geordie is back in the frame. Vaz Te should be relegated to warming the subs bench, but it’s Joe Cole’s predicament which interests me the most. His natural position is in the centre of the park, probably just behind the main striker, but that’s a role that Kevin Nolan has filled for Allardyce for the best part of a decade now. Mark Noble and Mohammed Diame operate in a deeper role, and fellow attacking midfielder Ravel Morrison may have forced his way into first team contention after he scored six goals during the pre-season. Cole shone when fit last season following his January move from Liverpool (again!). Where Big Sam will use the former England midfielder during this campaign remains unclear, and it’s a situation that very much bears watching.
Speaking of England, one of Downing’s motivations for making the switch will surely have been the opportunity to play regular first team football as he attempts to make an impression on England manager Roy Hodgson during a World Cup year. It’ll be difficult and the odds are against the ex-Middlesbrough man, but the simple fact that he’s left footed gives him an advantage over several other English wingers. While Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner amongst others are more talented than Downing they lack his versatility, so he’ll be keen to enjoy a productive season at Upton Park. His main competition for an England place could be another north east born winger, Adam Johnson, who played well under Paulo Di Canio at Sunderland towards the end of last season and has the added advantage of being three years younger than Downing. As the season progresses we’ll have a clearer picture of which side got the best of the deal, but right now it would be fair to say that for the player himself it’s a move that he had to make if he’s to resurrect his career – for both club and country.