Stewart Downing: Don't blame Liverpool's new boys, we're a teamPublish piece of news
Stewart Downing: Don't blame Liverpool's new boys, we're a team
Liverpool winger says rebuilding at Anfield is not an overnight process and will take time
Stewart Downing readily concedes he is not the most vocal presence in the Liverpool dressing room but insists: "If I have something to say, I say it." The allegation that he and his fellow expensive recruits of 2011 are culpable for the club's aimless league campaign finds the 27-year-old at his most verbose.
Wembley has become routine at club level since the England international joined Liverpool for £20m last summer although, in keeping with the tale of two campaigns at Anfield, so has criticism of what Fenway Sports Group has got for their money. As the owners' decision to sack Damien Comolli as the director of football 48 hours before the FA Cup semi-final defeat of Everton testified, the blame is not attributed purely by a voracious media or frustrated support. But it can be too simplistic. Liverpool delivered their worst performance of an already depressing home campaign in losing to Fulham at Anfield for the first time in the club's history on Tuesday. Only four of the starting lineup were signed last year and one, the reserve goalkeeper Alexander Doni, was the undisputed man of the match from a red perspective.
Downing says: "It's someone's opinion [that new players haven't delivered]. Others might take it hard, but it doesn't bother me. It's easy to look at the table and think just because it's not gone well in the league that it's the new players' fault. But that happens at every club. There are more than four or five players in a squad and we have all not done it, not just the new ones. It's as a team. Sometimes the new ones haven't played and we have lost games. It's a building process, it takes time, it's not overnight.
"There are seven or eight new players in the team and that's quite a lot. You're expected to come in and set the world alight but sometimes it doesn't happen. But there are positives. We are building a good team. To win the Carling Cup in the first season and potentially the FA Cup as well would be a great start."
The FA Cup final against Chelsea will be Downing's third visit to Wembley with Liverpool in four months, the highlights of a campaign in which he believes his own contribution mirrors that of the collective. "A bit up and down," he claims. "Some good, some indifferent. It has been for all of us. The league has been strange this season. Performance-wise it is there but killing off teams has not been. If we had finished teams off like we should have done we'd probably be second or third."
Downing has admitted previously being taken aback by the level of expectation at Anfield compared with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, his previous clubs, but the adjustment has not been made entirely in the mind. The winger was player of the year at Villa last season, an award reflecting his input of nine assists and eight goals. He is yet to open his account on either score in the league for Liverpool, a reflection of his misfortune in hitting the woodwork several times but also his struggle to impose himself in Kenny Dalglish's team.
"It was a more settled side at Villa, I'll give you that," he accepts. "I was on the right, Ashley [Young] was on the left and Darren [Bent] was down the middle, but we didn't have a huge squad. It's good when you're playing regularly and getting continuity, but you have to get used to that. This is a bigger club, with a lot more players of quality and if you are not playing well you can be replaced easily, whereas at Villa and Boro, no disrespect, it was more settled teams because the squads were smaller. It's nice to play regularly but I'm not the manager, I don't pick the team."
Downing appeared a natural fit for a Liverpool attack led by Andy Carroll at the start of the season yet that production line has not developed. On several occasions when Dalglish has been searching for a breakthrough he has introduced one at the expense of the other. "The manager wants to give everyone playing time and keep everyone on their toes. You'll have to ask him about that," is Downing's diplomatic reply.
Despite a staunch defence of Liverpool's new recruits, his faith in the direction of this team and a man of the match performance in the Carling Cup final win over Cardiff City, Downing accepts there remains a need to repay Dalglish for the trust he has maintained in the squad. "He paid a lot to get me here and worked hard to get me here," admits Downing. "I have massive respect for Kenny for that. Every time you play you want to do your best for him. You see how much he wants to win for this club but I think the owners see it as a bigger picture, not just an overnight success. They might not be happy with the league form but they can see we've won a cup and got a chance of another. It's a building process and might take a couple of years to get where we want to be."
In the meantime it is Chelsea, and a score that Downing has waited 15 years to settle. He explains: "The first time I went to Wembley was as a schoolboy with Middlesbrough for the 1997 final. Boro were massive underdogs and we all remember Di Matteo's goal going in off the bar so early. I've hated him ever since!"