He was, once upon a time, the chosen one. Prophesised to bring balance to the England midfield, a throwback winger who would stay high and wide and sling crosses in all day long, with all the grim mechanical production that role suggests. ‘A good, old-fashioned winger’, was the cry – someone with more white dust on his boots than the combined lapels of Aerosmith from 1976-84. King Kenny liked what he saw in Downing, envisioning a fearsome assembly line of emphatically English goals as Downing’s whipped deliveries collided with Andy Carroll’s bunched neck muscles. This was a formula that had worked flawlessly for a hundred years, what could possibly go wrong now?
The problem lies in the bit between the ‘good’ and the ‘winger’ – an operative adjective that invalidates the first part and renders the third irrelevant. The modern game has preyed on the old-fashioned, and Stewart Downing is a man out of time. Modern fullbacks press so high that the old-fashioned winger either finds himself pinned back in an area where his whipped cross become desultory punts forward, or gazing forlornly downfield as his isolated teammate becomes overrun by unfettered opposition scamperers. When Dalglish looked at Downing he looked into the past, and saw the glories of Liverpool’s lost empire. When present-day football looks at Downing, it sees nothing at all – and it cost Dalglish the best part of £20m and ultimately his job to see his anachronism stumble.
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