Why Aston Villa Fans Will Hammer The Conniving Stewart Downing

Players leave clubs all the time, but they way in which Downing went about his move from Aston Villa to Liverpool showed him up to be a hideous pillock...
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When Liverpool’s Stewart Downing steps on to the Aston Villa Park pitch once again this afternoon, he can expect only one reaction - booing of the most vociferous nature. While booing ex-players is often undeserved, on this occasion, I would have to concur that it is entirely justified. In fact, it may help to stir the passion that has been sadly lacking in B6 this season, a season beset with an overwhelming sense of apathy. Having a focus for the fans’ discontent in the shape of Downing may well generate the sort of intimidating atmosphere of which the Holte End is very capable.

But why should this unassuming - dare I say boring - England international attract such hatred? After all, plenty of players have left the Birmingham club in search of pastures new and many more will do the same. But few have done it in the same conniving, self-satisfying and ungrateful manner. For many, Downing’s flagrant lack of loyalty has been simply astounding. Ashley Young made a similar journey up the M6 to the north west to join the champions in the summer, yet was welcomed back by most supporters earlier this month, save for a smattering of unconvincing boos, while James Milner, who last summer began what would turn out to be an exodus of England internationals by joining the billionaires of Manchester City, was positively applauded by the travelling Villa faithful during their ill-fated trip to the Etihad Stadium in October.

While Young and Milner, it must be said, were always held in higher regard and adopted as fans’ favourites to a much greater extent than Downing ever was, that is not the reason for the anti-Downing backlash. The former conducted themselves with dignity, got on with playing and refused to be drawn into trying to force their moves through the press, while the latter, on the other hand, just weeks after seemingly committing his future to Aston Villa, suddenly had an about turn and went crying about it to the papers in his home town and anywhere else where the press would listen.

The most galling thing in all of this was that Downing’s over-inflated opinion of himself seemed to cause some kind of memory loss. Not only did Villa show great faith in him by rescuing him from impending Championship football with Middlesbrough with an over-inflated transfer fee which no other club was prepared to pay, but they took the ultimate gamble by buying him while his broken foot was still in plaster (granted, it was the Aston Villa captain Stilyan Petrov who caused his injury in the first place, but that’s by the by), nursed him back to full health for the next five months, then patiently helped him to recover his form while he pussy-footed his way around the pitch for the remainder of his first season, limping out of tackles, steering clear of challenges and generally doing little more than making up the numbers.

Well Stewart, you can rest assured they shall be loud and clear. Let’s just hope the inevitable doesn’t happen and he bags his first goal of the season.

A full pre-season followed, albeit a rather tumultuous one owing to the sudden departure of Martin O’Neill, and a revitalised Downing went on to be voted player of the season after standing out as the best of a bad bunch during a very drab campaign, making up for his continued ability to avoid tackles and heavy challenges at all costs with the occasional burst from midfield to score or set up his team-mates. Downing’s direct approach has certainly been missed by Alex McLeish’s men this season and had he stayed he would no doubt have been one of the shining lights of the current campaign. But after enjoying his first full season as a Villa player, he sang the virtues of the club in the press, stating his desire to stay and sign a contract extension, before doing literally the opposite of that, telling the papers he wouldn’t sign a contract extension before forcing the club to sell him to Liverpool, throwing in posing with a Liverpool scarf on holiday while still a Villa player, just for good measure. We were led to believe the photo was faked at the time, but whether it was or not, Downing had already nailed his colours to the mast, showing nothing but contempt for the club which had previously shown such faith in him.

Players are entitled to move on and always will be, but a bit of loyalty every now and then wouldn’t go amiss. Downing of course trotted out the usual lines about wanting Champions League football, something he is unlikely to achieve on Merseyside anytime soon. Villa assist manager Peter Grant’s comments this week were perhaps more telling: “When they [players] are at the club they have to say the right things, like ‘I want to stay here’.

“But if there’s money like that being offered, they look at it and think ‘I feel as if the money is at that level now, that’s where I’m going to go’.

“Players make choices, he’s made his choice to leave, let it be. We’re hoping going into the weekend that we win the game and he feels as if he’s made the wrong choice.”

Even Alex McCleish, who barely had a chance to convince Downing to stay, acknowledged that Downing would receive “apprehension-inducing stick” today, not that Downing needs much encouragement to appear apprehensive on the football pitch. And not that he would expect anything other than abuse from the fans, having recognised as much shortly after completing his summer transfer when he stated, with more than a hint of contempt in his tone, that: “It's up to their fans and their opinions of me. If they want to be loud and clear with what they think of me, then that's fine.”

Well Stewart, you can rest assured they shall be loud and clear. Let’s just hope the inevitable doesn’t happen and he bags his first goal of the season.

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