Why Downing's inclusion in the Euro 2012 squad was justified.
We must be the only nation to be able to generate so much hype over something that is as basic as a 23 man squad release. Every other country taking part in the Euro’s this summer published their lists in a succinct and brisk method, minimal fuss with minimal controversy. Oh but not us. Journalists bluffed and double bluffed each other with stab in the dark predictions on who will be included.
Many decisions had leaked out before the official statement at 1pm, but when the FA finally provided our squad, there was 1 inclusion that caused mass uproar. Stewart Downing. Downing, who has 270 premier league appearances and 33 senior international caps, has been forever maligned by the national press. Many people up here in the north east firmly believe that the southern press has it in for him, simply because of his unfashionable background having been brought through the academy of an unfashionable club, Middlesbrough. I don’t buy into this as there is a large flaw in this theory, as Adam Johnson a product of the same academy, seems to be a goldenboy in the eyes of the media. Hodgson’s decision to include Downing in his Euro 2012 squad caught many off-guard. Whereas I am pleased he has been selected, and here are five reasons why I believe Roy Hodgson has made the correct choice.
1) Big Match Experience
Many falter on the big stage. Under the intense scrutiny of high profile matches footballers are unpredictable and experience is a desired attribute. Downing has been involved in 5 club cup finals in his career so far. Not many players can boast such a record. He has been on the successful side in the league cup final twice with both Middlesbrough and Liverpool. A losing FA cup finalist twice with Aston Villa and Liverpool and a UEFA cup finalist again with the ‘Boro. At 27 years old he has an impressive CV, his experiences and composure means he certainly has a part to play both on the field and in the dressing room.
2) Tournament Experience
“Its just the same old squad!” Cried the ignorant cynics on twitter as they lambasted Hodgson’s squad a mere 20 seconds after it had been confirmed. This is incorrect. Only 11 of that 23 man squad have ever set foot on a football pitch in an international tournament. Stewart Downing took part in the 2006 world cup finals in Germany. The blend it just right in this squad between youth and senior players. It would have been counter-productive to select 23 players who have never been away with the senior side for a big tournament.
3) The only left footed wide player in the squad
I am not saying this alone justifies a call up to the Euro squad. But can a country really go to a tournament without a left midfielder? Adam Johnson would be no help to England at a major tournament. His ball-greedy selfish play would be much more of a hinderance to the teams performance. The one dimensional explosiveness may sometimes conjure up game changing moments, but these are few and very far between. His smug arrogance and prima donna attitude don’t help either… Downing is consistent, you know what you will get from him. He may not have the raw explosiveness of Johnson, but he has a steady head. There will be a good supply of ammunition from crosses from the left when Downing is out there.
4) The stats aren’t everything
We all know the statistics, 0 goals, 0 assists. On the face of it, yes that is a pretty horrendous return for a wide midfielder who cost £16 million. But, many have taken this completely out of context. Do these figures mean that Downing has not whipped in a single cross into the box the entire season? No, it doesn’t. Perhaps, if Liverpool’s strike force had been prolific this season, the numbers may have been different. All he can do as a winger is stick the crosses in, it is then up to the forwards to put these chances away. Here is a statistic I bet you haven’t seen banded around: Since August 2010 Downing has been credited with 4 assists for England, in 4 appearances. The lad has the ability to change games, I witnessed this with my own eyes as one year he single-handedly guided Middlesbrough away from relegation.
5) He has a point to prove
There is no doubt this media fuelled bombardment will have dented his already rock-bottom confidence. Downing is a resilient character, no matter how many times he is knocked by the papers he always gets on with his job on the field. He was cleared of the allegations regarding assault as it was proved to be nothing but tabloid scandal, but he has put this behind him now. I was both appalled and amused by the reaction on twitter to his inclusion. For some reason, one which I can’t fathom, there is actually an anti-Downing agenda. He is talked about and treat as though he is a spawn of the anti-christ. He is spoken in the same breathe as notorious criminals and simon cowell. When people utter his name they must do so whilst snarling. For reasons unknown to me, the general public hate the man.
At around midday, just one hour prior to the release of the squad “If Downing” was trending worldwide! As people tweeted their own attempt at comedy by stating humorous things if by some freak of nature disaster, Downing was going to the Euros.