BORO SELLING Stewart Downing to a relegation rival right now would be a high risk strategy that borders on the suicidal. In the summer maybe. But not now.
With Boro mired in a cut-throat basement battle it would be reckless to let the team’s most consistent and potent creative force leave. That goes double for any notion he should leave to a team we are engaged in a battle for survival with.
The kneejerk reaction from fans to a player putting in a transfer request is usually “get rid”, usually accompanied by varying degrees of bile about being useless money-grabbing big time Charlie wasters who are no good anyway. And if they are local lads you can add ‘Judas’ to that short-sighted set list and they will be booed for all eternity. Or until, like Peter Beagrie it reaches its radioactive half life, with only a minority of the crowd even being alive at the time of the alleged heinous crime against Boro.
If Boro go down in the wake of an unsettling January and Downing’s departure then he could go down in infamy as the person responsible, whether that is fair or not. But if he stays and helps keep Boro up he can depart a hero in the summer.
Selling Downing now would be madness. Whatever the spin you put on it about new players coming in with the money, it would leave the team weaker at at time when we are struggling to escape the Twilight Zone and are already light on experience and creativity.
We can’t afford to sacrifice a key player on the off chance that the club find a suitable replacement at the right price in the limited shelftime of January. And we can’t reshuffle the team on the hoof. Certainly not at a time when the stakes are so high and the margin between success and failure tighter than ever before.
There may well be compelling financial reasons for the club to consider big money offers for Teesside’s wing wizard as a general principle. We know the club has entered a new era of prudent housekeeping against a background of global economic downturn, a situation the club have not tried to hide, indeed they have made it central to their strategic planning for a new financial model.
And we know too that if he wants to leave – and slapping in a transfer request is as strong a signal as you can send on that front – then it is very hard to keep an unhappy player at the club, at least in the long term.
On an abstract level you can make a strong case for cashing in the equity tied up in Downing in order to shore up other, weaker areas of the team, a case that in the summer given the luxury of time to reshape the side you may well accept.
For Downing’s part there may well be convincing footballing reasons to decide that the time is ripe to advance his career with a move to a ‘bigger’ or more glamorous club. His Dad and representative Stewie Senior outlined the basics of the case in the Gazette.
Boro are stagnant at best during a period of rebuilding on a lower cost-base and arguably have slipped ominously backwards, pulled by football gravity after the high-point of Eindhoven. Boro are closer than ever before to being sucked down into the chilling uncertainties of the Championship.
So you can see why a talented international with a highly marketable ability to cross from the left would want to be plying his trade on a more stable platform and at a considerably higher level. Two years ago red hot Downing had broken into the England side, had just played in the UEFA Cup final and the club were talking about a Great Leap Forward. Since then a host of big names have left to and the club have been left treading water.
It is a short career and the days of players sticking with their home town club out of loyalty or a parochial sense of obligation are long gone and you can’t blame Downing for thinking the next stage of his development lies elsewhere – especially if through the text chatter of football’s close knit village he believes that he could earn or win more and if he is having his head turned by outside influences.
In the summer should he leave all well and good, and if he goes on to a Champions League team all the better. He will undeniably then be able to prosper and reach the level his potential has always suggested we can all be proud of that.
But right now the most unavoidable reality and most important fact to consider is the fragile position of Boro. Boro are above the drop spots on goal difference alone. They have taken just three points from 24 and are rock bottom of the form table.
Boro are looking more vulnerable than at any time since the Riverside Revolution.
If they are relegated now they will not bounce back with the cash-fuelled ease they did last time, buoyed by a wave of righteous anger and with most of the team intact. If they go down now it will spark a player exodus and widespread defeatism and anger.
So survival for Boro is the most important factor in the equation and selling Downing – especially to a team just one point better off than us, the eternal ‘new dawn’ specialists that are Spurs, the Geordies of London – could shift the numbers decisively against us.
A year ago – when the annual unsettling White Hart Lane courtship dance was underway – we discussed on here why Spurs would be a sideways step at best for Stewie. Little has changed for him… but Boro’s situation has deteriorated.
Boro should not sell Downing to ‘Arry Redknapp in January no matter what. A rival would be better off to the tune of England’s best left winger at our expense. Not only would that be a massive blow but there is no guarantee that any sale would benefits the team.
Even if we got full value for Downing – a ‘derisory’ ÃÂ£6m opening offer of Spurs was laughed off and a second below ÃÂ£10m has also been rejected – could we spend the money wisely and effectively enough to mitigate the blow?
Firstly the deal will probably be structured so we only get half up front; secondly we do not know what pressures are on the clubs finances and how much will be available for Southgate to spend; thirdly there may not be enough time (or cash) to bring in the right people to improve the team; and lastly, and crucially, if clubs know we have dosh the price rises, especially towards the end of the window.
Who, realistically, can we replace a current England international and last season’s top scorer with? There has been a groundswell of opinion within the crowd (during distracted Downing’s undoubted personal dip in form) suggesting that Adam Johnson can do the job – but he can’t. At least, not yet.
The mooted Real Madrid target is talented, tricky and pacy and has the potential to eventually emulate Downing, but with the best will in the world he is not yet consistent enough to deliver what Downing has done week in, week out for four years.
That means recruiting and who would be happy with an unknown Serb or Belgian who needs ten games to settle? We could be down by then. So Downing must stay, at least until the summer when the impact of his departure can be met with a controlled wider structural reshuffle within the team.
It is less than a year since Downing signed a new five year deal and declared himself pleased with the outcome. It may be old fashioned and naive but he has some moral obligation to honour that – or at least not end it suddenly in a way that damages the club.
Steve Gibson and Southgate have both indicated they will refuse his request and stick firm, which is reassuring.
January is a massive month for Boro and the dressing room distractions of a key player wanting out plus the undoubted speculation that will led to over replacements and other departures could be extremely damaging.
Downing should be told he must to stay and help get Boro out of the mess and revisit the situation in the summer when hopefully his performances will have put him in a position to move to a far better club than Spurs and when Boro have the opportunity to plan around his exit and spend the money in a market not distorted by the window.
Aston Villa have shown it can be done. They refused to buckle to Liverpool pressure over Gareth Barry last summer. They insisted he would only leave on their terms and to their valuation and timetable and managed to reinvigourate the player to boot to the point where he is playing the best football of his career.
We should do likewise. Stewie can go in June. Until then there is work to be done.