Friday, February 15, 2008

Wise Move by Stewart Downing?

Middlesbrough left winger Stewart Downing signed a new five-year contract with the club today after weeks of maintaining his wish to leave Boro when his previous contract expired after the 2009-2010 season.

Downing has seemingly been rumored to join Tottenham in every recent transfer window, and looked a good bet to do just that in January. He's a 23-year old graduate of Boro's reputable youth academy, which has churned out some talented youngsters over the past several seasons and still appears strong.

The left-footer has also earned 16 caps for England and many people believed him to be England's next big thing at his position. He made his first senior appearance at the age of 20 under former manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, but his international career has stalled over the past couple of seasons due to injury and poor form.

Downing is a hometown boy and is probably Middlesbrough's best player right now. He's likely bringing in a pretty handsome salary with other clubs' interest in him driving up the the price for Boro to keep him, and he's one of their most tenured players anyway.

This is the issue for me as it relates to Downing. I don't think staying at Middlesbrough will help him grow at all as a player, and it definitely lessens his chances of a significant future with the national team. Ashley Young's emergence on the left side at Aston Villa has been a revelation to some people, and his 13 assists are tied for the most in the Premiership this season. Young is a spectacular set-piece taker, has great pace, and can score goals from open play. He's a year younger than Downing as well, and was handed a cap by new manager Fabio Capello in England's recent 2-1 friendly victory over Switzerland. Joe Cole still has a big role with the national team also; Cole can play on both wings or behind the striker, and his versatility is a great asset to have.

Where does this leave Downing? With England, he has to be the third-choice on that left side now, even though he really looked to be the player of the future at that position as I said previously. With Middlesbrough, he's stuck on a club that's mired in neutral. Yes, Boro has ambition, but teams around them in the table have more money and nicer stadiums, so those clubs are able to attract better talent for the most part, even though I know Boro just landed record signing Afonso Alves.

This is a guy who would've fit in nicely at Spurs in my opinion, a team loaded with young British players and one that's in need of a player on the left wing. Playing for Juande Ramos, a well-known, accomplished international manager, would help Downing develop as a player much quicker than playing for the vastly less experienced Gareth Southgate. At Boro, he’s a star and sometimes has a tendency to take his foot off the pedal; at Spurs, he would’ve been just another good player on a team full of good (and a couple great) players and would’ve had to work his tail off.

I'm interested to hear your take on this, especially if you're a Boro fan. I'm not sure how much money Downing is making per week or per year at the Riverside, but surely Spurs would've offered him either very close to, as much as, or maybe even slightly more money. Spurs are a perennial UEFA Cup contender as well, and most players want a chance to play in a European competition.

It appears to me like Downing doesn't have much ambition; it's like he's lacking that drive to become the best player he can possibly be. He has it easy at Boro. He's one of the first names on the team sheet there every week as long as he's healthy. Playing for a bigger club would help him regain a meaningful role on the national team, but he seems satisfied with taking the easy route by staying at Boro.

What gives?

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