IT HAD started so promisingly. Cutting inside off the right flank, Stewart Downing netted the first goal of Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield reign as his sweetly-struck 30-yarder secured victory over FC Gomel.
All the talk was of Downing finally being ready to kick on and show why Liverpool had paid £20million for him a year earlier.
It hasn’t happened. Two months on from that night in Belarus, the England international’s future with the Reds is in serious doubt.
After a poor display at West Brom on the opening day of the Premier League season, Downing has slipped further and further down the pecking order.
Having been an unused sub against Man City, he came on against Arsenal and Sunderland before not even making the bench against Manchester United last weekend.
Considering the paucity of his contribution in the Europa League game against Young Boys, it was no surprise that Rodgers axed him from the squad completely. On a night when the manager needed his senior players to lead by example and show the youngsters the way, Downing remained firmly on the periphery.
His disinterested demeanour was in stark contrast to the hunger and desire showcased by those teenagers taking their first steps in the game.
There was more of the same at West Brom on Wednesday night. Rather than grasp the chance to prove Rodgers wrong and force his way back into contention, Downing was a weak link.
Having already seen youngsters Raheem Sterling and Suso leapfrog him, he can now add Oussama Assaidi to the list after the Moroccan comprehensively outshone him at the Hawthorns.
If there isn’t a marked improvement over the coming months then Downing will be offloaded in January but Liverpool will be lucky to get close to half what they paid for them.
Rodgers, who has experimented with playing Downing at left-back, has made it clear it’s not a question of ability but application.
“The big challenge for Stewart now is that commitment to the cause to fight because he has the qualities,” he said.
“He had a wonderful left foot but talent alone is not enough. You have to work hard, you have to fight for the shirt. If you don't do that then longer-term you won't be here. It is as simple as that.”
Rodgers hoped Downing would be spurred on by greater competition for places but instead he appears to have thrown in the towel.
At 28, he should be at the peak of his career. When he arrived last summer he was hailed as the solution to a long-standing problem.
Liverpool had been crying out for quality in wide areas since Steve McManaman departed for Real Madrid more than a decade earlier.
He was unfortunate in those early months, rattling the woodwork and seeing team-mates fail to provide the finishing touches to some tantalising deliveries.
His confidence was clearly dented and he admitted expectation levels at Anfield had been ‘a culture shock’ following stints with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough. A man of the match award in the Carling Cup final failed to act as a springboard.
It was a damning statistic that despite appearing in 36 of the 38 league games last term he failed to provide either a goal or an assist.
Rather than improve, Downing has regressed and is in serious danger of taking his place alongside El Hadji Diouf, Jermaine Pennant, Mark Gonzalez and Harry Kewell in the list of wide men who failed at Anfield.
He still has time to change that – but the clock is ticking.
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