No 10: Downing. Sweet

THE RETURN of Boro’s parmo-powered prodigal play-maker can galvanise the Riverside.

If Stewart Downing can hit the sizzling form he showed at West Ham last term, he can help fire his home town club back to the Premier League. He can be a game-changer. A hero.

This is a pivotal moment that feeds into the narrative of past glories, of the big name signing sweeping into town to energise the team and the town and to create some emotional momentum. It could be a ‘Merson moment.”


After some solid platform-building by Aitot Karanka last term, the Boro stage is set for a hero to play the star role in an historic production.  And this hero is definitely “one of our own.”  Stewie Downing is as Teesside as the Transporter.  He is from one of the heartland estates that have bred generations of Boro diehards and for all his top flight travels has never really emotional left Middlesbrough. He is back at every opportunity.

And that is important. Downing knows exactly what football and Boro means to the pride and identity of ordinary people whether they go to games or not and he understands the passion that it evokes.

And he knows too the narcotic high of glory at the Riverside, has had the scent of success in his nostrils as he starred in front of a pulsating full house.  Downing appreciates what his home-coming entails on and off the pitch. He knows what is at stake for himself and for Boro. He knows the challenges. He knows the potential rewards.

And he will know too that the timing is right: the club are well placed for a great revival, he is ripe for a new challenge and there is vacancy for a kingpin player to seize the day.

For Boro this can be a Magic moment that echoes the electrifying impact of Paul Merson.

Back in July 1997 the maverick midfielder left Arsenal and stepped down from the top flight and after buying into Bryan Robson’s vision of the Riverside Revolution.  It was a massive gamble for the in-demand England international to drop down a division to join a relegated side and it was risk for Boro to go for a bad boy with baggage. Merson was on the naughty step at Arsenal after a spell in rehab for booze, betting and cocaine addictions.


Magic Marker: Paul Merson sends out a DIY  promotion message

But the move paid dividends for both parties. In spades.  The silky schemer – “the Magic Man” – pulled the strings and tore the league apart as bubbling Boro secured promotion back to the elite at the first attempt, dancing through defences and scoring goals but also laying chances on a plate for Mikkel Beck, Hamilton Ricard and Marco Branca.

Merson became a fans’ favourite while his swaggering shows, despite being in the second tier,  earned him first an England recall and then a place on the plane to the 1998 World Cup in France.  His swift exit to Aston Villa on his return and the bad-mouthing of all and sundry as his demons took grip again soured his spell as a Riverside hero and for a while he was filed under “Judas” but that shouldn’t erase either the memories of his poise on the pitch or the impact he had on the team. Paul Merson was the man who got Boro promoted that season. Not single-handedly but he made the team tick.

Stewart Downing’s return to Teesside can have a similar dramatic impact next season.

Like Merson, he can be the catalyst for a promotion push and the creative heart of a reshaped team with a new emphasis on attack. He can be the hero. The creative force. Her can sprinkle the magic dust at the Riverside.

Boro were rock solid at the back last term and competitive in midfield.  But they lacked a spark up front at time. They lacked nous. They lacked a player to play a killer pass to unlock a disciplined defence sat deep.

Downing played in the crucial No 10 role can be the man to unshackle the tactical chains of teams who set out to defend.

Imagine Downing picking out perfect passes to find the jet-heeled runs of Albert Adomah or Muzzy Carayol down the flanks. Imagine him finding the head or feet of a striker bursting into the box. Imagine Downing adding some hunter-killer laser guided deadball deliveries to Boro’s attacking armoury.

What Downing can add  to this team is mouth-watering prospect. Especially in the Championship – but also possibly beyond.  If he does help take Boro up then he can still be a key component as the team find their feet at the higher level.

And he has matured as a player during his years away from the Riverside.

At Boro he was the man with chalk on his boots, an archetypal winger with a sweet left foot marauding down the left and pinging in pin-point crosses to the near post, the far post and onto the foreheads of team-mates in the box.  He was a potent force and assist king, carving teams open through some of the most exciting times in the Boro’s history.


Glory nights: Stewart Downing helps dismantle Steaua Bucharest 

He still has that  vision and the accuracy with his deliveries but has added years of experience playing under some demanding managers in a variety of shapes and roles. Don’t buy the tired tabloid lazy labelling: “he’s rubbish.” No he isn’t. He won the player of the year gong at Villa at a time when they were challenge the top six and was hailed as pivotal in the Hammers assault on the big boys last term. It was only at Liverpool he was under a cloud and part of that was because he was put in the scapegoat envelope by cack-handed armchair psychologist Brendan Rodgers.

And in recent years he has found a new range of skills as he has switched inside to become a polished performer with a deft touch and sharp distribution and an instinct to make things happen in an attacking midfield role – exactly where Boro need an extra edge.

The return of the Pallister Park prodigy could be a vital piece in Boro’s promotion jigsaw.

It is a huge statement of intent by the club: they are making a bank-busting investment for a Championship club to bring in top talent in a key role. They are paying a guaranteed £5.5m to West Ham and performance and promotion bonuses could take that to £7m. He has taken a big cut in his wages from about £60,000 a week to “only” £30,000 (although it is over an extra two years and still adds up to £6.2m so he won’t starve) and will get a big promotion golden EIO if he delivers. It is a huge commitment for a  Championship club. But Steve Gibson’s calculation is that if he gets Boro back into the big time it will be worth it.

Boro have signed a player in his pomp that a string of Premier League clubs covet and could far more easily afford.  That screams of an new flush of open ambition at Boro that echoes the script-ripping optimistic early years of the Riverside era when it seemed there were no limits to possibilities and our dreams.

But the coup speaks to something else deep in the Teesside psyche too.  It speaks of the end of austerity and a poverty on the pitch a return to the good times.

Downing’s exit came at a watershed moment for the club, the point at which the music stopped and Boro were left stood sheepishly without a chair and when suddenly the world crashed down.

Boro’s relegation came as the world banking crisis caused a credit crunch and the easy cash of previous years was cut off.  With the toxic shock of demotion and a £90m debt suddenly Boro were a selling club – and Downing’s exit to Aston Villa was the signal for the first team to be filleted of genuine top flight quality.

Downing’s departure marked a period of darkness, of slump, of cost-cutting and decline as the club’s power, status and ambitions faded fast. He was the first flogged off as Boro went on a long slide of powerless retrenchment and frustrating belt-tightening and pain.

On his departure, Downing vowed he would return to the club “when the time was right.” He gave Gibson his word.  This may not be the stuff of Arthurian legend and the return of a hero king at a moment of existaential crisis but it is nice to thing that the home-coming may signal that, once again, “the time is right for Middlesbrough.

There is a felling abroad that that his return signals a return to the good times.  It has certainly brought back a buzz to Teesside.  It will be seen as a resurgent club flexing its market muscle and setting out a clear agenda, and one that excites.

This is a landmark moment. Steve Gibson has shown his ambition and his willingness to spend to achieve success.  Traditionally the Teesside public have responded to that in kind with bums on seats and foam fingered optimism.

If Downing inspires the team to promotion the Riverside will be rocking like the old days.


541 thoughts on “No 10: Downing. Sweet

  1. It would be interesting to re-read last year’s blogs leading up to the eventual successful transfer of Adam Clayton. There were a lot of posters who gave up on that deal early and laughed at Boro’s incompetence in the transfer market. Wonder if it’s the same people who are now getting their knickers in a knot over Jordan Rhodes or any other striker for that matter.

    Apparently we are ‘the easiest mark in football’ for selling Ben Gibson to Everton for GBP8m…except that we haven’t of course, and we’ve stuffed up the signing of Jordan Rhodes…except that we have no idea what’s happening there and it’s only been talked about in the papers for 2 weeks.

    The only thing I do know is that our much derided team of transfer negotiators were in fact successful in bringing Clayton (and Bamford for that matter) to Boro last year, and so far this year have delivered Downing, Baptiste, Stuani and Jack Stephens. On the last of these, did anyone notice the complete lack of media speculation prior to the deal?

    I’ve no idea who we might end up with, but I’d expect there to be a few more in comings and possibly one or two leaving. On the evidence of deals so far over the last 2 or 3 seasons, I have a lot of confidence in Boro’s market nouse.

    1. Knickers are meant to twist not stick. If they stick you know you’re in trouble and you should make your way to the nearesy bathroom toilet with haste 🙂 One for the older stoics amongst us 🙂

  2. 14 million for Rhodes (according to the Mail on Sunday)
    Well if he becomes the difference in getting promoted the speculate to accumulate theory adds up….IF

  3. Spartak –

    Because I post it is pointless worrying about Rhodes it isn’t because I think the deal is dead, it is because we don’t know enough about what is going on.

    We can ponder on who is available, who we think would fit in at Boro, how the players we have are doing, who to play where, even on the cricket. We can even pontificate about the transfers but the truth is we don’t know what is going on. No point gnashing our teeth and wailing.

    As mentioned earlier we are supposed to be looking at a £14m bid for Rhodes. Who knows how true it is? The club will but Gibbo doesn’t text me every time a move is made in the transfer market.

    Will he come? Haven’t a clue. Are we looking at other players? I guess so but haven’t a clue who. Will we sell Tomlin? Don’t know.

    Just have to wait and see.

  4. Ian –

    we may as well close this blog down then; we are all frustrated at the speculation and the what ifs but at least from time to time we can get to blow off steam here…for a good few of us being in expat land with no other Boro supporters to give vent to our frustrations this blog is a welcome place to visit………we are overdue a new post from AV though

    **AV writes: I’ve told you… I’m on holiday. I’m back on Monday.

  5. Ron

    I am urbane at the moment but I am sat in splendid Boro isolation next to my high horse ready to berate all and sundry.

    I was merely referring to the transfers, normal service will be resumed shortly.

  6. Its a no win situation for us supporters. It is frustrating not to know what is going on when all the [transfer] activity that the club is engaged in happens behind closed doors so to speak. On the other hand it is frustrating when the majority of what is reported is fatuous and comes to nothing.

    Like Ian says, we will see what happens when it actually happens. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop the sense of anticipation and needing an out for that. I do find it interesting to see how others think about these things and what their ideas and opinions are, while remaining phlegmatic about it all.

    On the whole I think the Boro are having an excellent transfer window, probably the best for a lot of years now. AV was intimating there will be something to write about on Monday when he’s back from his hols ….. not long to wait for that to come around. (Not a bad thing either, as the slow trawl to 500 is painfully slow!)

  7. Powmill

    It is 7pm in Brisbane so expect incoming.

    Vic is back on Monday so he will be having a long trawl through what has been going on, I suspect one or two of us may be sat on the naughty step for non football posts.

    1. On a genuine note, I feel a great season coming on, what’s does everyone else think? For mine, if we Add one striker and I’ll say promotion, add a top keeper too and my prediction will be as champions. Last season I said play offs and we’ll lose the bloody final, typical boro ( can’t believe I didn’t place a bet) we’ll see if it happens. And we’ll see if a hat-trick is really possible, is 500 too good to be true?

      1. We may never know but it was quite exciting at my end – how was it for you? (lights up ciggy whilst pulling sheet upto manly hairy chest with smug smile.

    1. Far more sporting effort all around, than taking the easy option to dribble it through midfield and into the net when no one else is watching. Well played everybody . honours about equal I think.

    1. Didn’t you notice that Spartakboro had a sneaky “recommended” reply at 10h02 up the way a little bit…..

  8. Spartakboro … don’t think I didn’t notice you posting against the “older” comments …. raises glass to the ingenuity

    1. Can’t keep an old stoic down Powmill – thought sneaking up from behind unawares so to speak might provide dividends. (Tips hat in gentlemanly fashion and walks off swinging walking stick into the crowded boulevard off the Champs-Elysees)

  9. Forgot to mention that I watched the highlights on MFC Boro HD thingy. We looked to be playing at a good tempo. I know it was only a friendly but promising signs.

  10. Had we just signed Kike a few weeks ago we would all be on here now stating we can’t wait for the season to start because Kike and Downing are going to rip this league apart.

    Kike thankfully and not before time looks to have found his scoring boots. Apparently Tomlin hid them in Bamford’s locker last September and the cleaner just found them last week as she was tidying it up in preparation for Jordan Rhodes.

    When AK found out by overhearing a conversation between Kike who was thanking the cleaner he went ballistic and Leo had to hold him back. Tomlin just laughed and said get a life, anyways what do I care I’m off back to the Fens to play in the Prem. Who do you think hid the Coach keys at Wembley and why I just wandered around wide left killing time on the hallowed turf. I had my transfer sorted out well before Kick Off then after I lost a bet over a bare knuckle fight with Alex Neil, the deal was the loser had to forfeit the Play Off final.

    I wouldn’t have minded but I could have had him except Neil cheated by leaving 10 Big Macs just outside my caravan door the cheating Canary!

    Anyway stuff Getafe I’m off down South again, Bye!

    AK was heard saying like that Tublin gives me the sheets! And so now we know what really happened and why Lee was seen driving away from the Riverside instead of being on the bench.

    In other recent news apparently Lambert walked out of the new 3 bed semi he had bought in Darlington in disgust when he discovered rising damp that the previous owners forgot to mention. So there you have it our loss is the Baggies gain and to think he came so close to signing as well apparently according to Twitter.

  11. On a slightly more serious note young Fry looks to be posing a bit of a problem for AK. He is too young but there again if you are good enough you are old enough. With Friend and Ayala alongside, Woody mentoring I would give the lad a go at Preston and definitely Oldham. We could send him out on loan but I thibk I would be tempted to keep him here and give him some game time from the bench.

    Another conundrum is Maloney who hasn’t seemed out of his depth. In his case I would send him out on loan as competition in the middle of the park is intense and its unlikely that AK would drop Clayts, Grant, Forshaw, Downing or Fabbrini etc. to play him. Again he would be worth an outing at Oldham.

    Rumour circulating on Teesside is that we will be announcing two signings this week of significance. One I assume to be Rhodes if everything is agreed of course but no idea who the other may be or indeed what position, Defender, Goalkeeper? It may of course just be that Stuani’s papers have arrived in the post.

    If anyone spots Tomlin at the Sleaford services Little Chef Car Park apparently Tomas Mejias lost his gloves last August so it might be worth taking a little peak in the back of Lee’s Range Rover!

  12. RR I agree Fry deserves a go, good enough old enough.
    Signings of significance next week! here’s hoping

  13. Shoots from way out (a la Rhodes) only to discover post is lost in cyberspace. This conspiracy could be up there with the 3 points debacle…. Didn’t that involve Blackburn too?

  14. AV – conspiracy one o one! I was loitering with intent from 7pm ( Brisbane time) and none of my posts have appeared until the last 20 mins! Then they are dotted all over the blog! Does this mean the Rhodes transfer will be announced first over here and we will be delayed telling everyone? ( feels like the script of JFK). Anyway hope u had a great holiday, 6 games in August means you’ll get how many days off?

    **AV writes: Barring international weekends I won’t get a proper break now till May. Early May this time.

  15. If I’ve understood this correctly, AV seems to feel entitled to have occasional weekend breaks, and even to indulge himself with a proper holiday … I mean sorry, I try to be broad-minded, but it all smacks of having a life of his own…

    Where’s the ethos of the customer is always right? Slaving over a hot keyboard 24/7, 365 days a year is the very least we can expect.

    These journalists, self, self, self….

    **AV writes: Yes, the malingering bastards. I’ve even been away for a few days and unchained myself from the laptop this time.

  16. I saw the Mail reporting we have offered 14 million for Rhodes, i am not sure if there is any truth to that. I can speculate where the extra may have or maybe coming from, but i won’t believe it until the Gazette ‘Understands’.

  17. Harking back to the Kit debate from a few weeks ago and whilst we are collectively looking at a Rhode map awaiting directions take a look at some of the kits on here. Maybe its just me but the brand with the three stripes seem to struggle with creativity compared to say Puma or Kappa for instance. The less said about the Manure female shirt the better!

  18. Think AV is poised ready to hit the send button only there isn’t the news he was hoping for , yet. But the way the Gazette keeps reinventing a story to keep Rhodes name in print is impressive

  19. Going back to yesterday’s post by Borophil, I agree. One way or another, I think we are heading for a memorable season. If we can sign Rhodes, or somebody close to his scoring reliability, then we might just experience the elation of a Big Jack type season.

    There. No sitting on the fence there, eh!

  20. Aston Villa are cash rich after selling Benteke and Delph, yet they chose to buy Gestede from Blackburn and not Rhodes…Hmmmm.

  21. Well a quiet day of sorts but one with rumours filling the void about Rhodes going to the Makems, Tomlin on the naughty step or the Crapper depending on whose version of events you believe with £3m or £4m offers received (or not).

    A 32 year old Argentine Italian Keeper called Andujar who managed to secure four clean sheets in his 15 Serie A appearances last season but still managed to let in 24 goals now apparently lined up at the Riverside.

    Not sure on the last one as he has been replaced at Napoli by Pepe Reina who didn’t exactly set the heather alight during his Anfield sojourn.

    There is definitely something off with regards to the Tomlin saga and two and two equals five. Regards the Keeper well I have to ask the question why? After Mejias surely we have learnt lessons about Keepers having to adjust to the English game. There must be plenty of decent shot stoppers available with Championship experience (Eastwood?).

  22. Over 500 replies? Has the world gone mad? I turn my back by going camping at Whitby and, when I return, I see that the football-blogging public appears to have taken speed and decided to break records.

    I thought we all understood the rules here: a good performance gives rise to a modest harvest of posts to the blog. A bad defeat or generally shambolic performance gives rise to a tsunami of complaints and abuse. Have I missed something?

    1. Dormo, we’re steadily angling towards the 600, and if we don’t sign someone soon( giving AV something to write about) it will be Friday before the annual how will we go blog? Anyway great to have you back and I’ve been happy to deputise in your absence with numbers 300 and 400. With pre-season over there is now real competition for the next century, just how coach Vickers wants it!

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