Liverpool transfers: Stewart Downing lifts the lid on Reds exit
West Ham United's Stewart Downing lifts the lid on his Liverpool exit after sealing a £5.5m move to Upton Park on Tuesday
Despite expressing his delight at completing a move to West Ham United, Stewart Downing insists he was prepared to stay and fight for his first-team place at Liverpool.
The 29-year-old has experienced a whirlwind week as his move to Hammers was finalised on Tuesday, just three days after the midfielder featured in Liverpool’s 1-0 loss to Celtic at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Downing has penned a four-year deal in east London, and manager Sam Allardyce spoke in glowing terms about the qualities which his new signing can bring to the Hammers over the coming season at a news conference on Thursday.
But West Ham’s latest recruit revealed he had been preparing to see off the challenge from Liverpool’s summer signings, spurred on by Brendan Rodgers’ words of encouragement, before swapping Anfield for the Boleyn Ground.
“It happened so quick. I was playing in Dublin and I thought I’d be starting the season at Liverpool. That’s the way it was.
“I spoke to Brendan just before the game and he said there had been an offer accepted. He said he didn’t want me to leave but the club had agreed for me to go.
“I just thought it was right time for me to move. I was in and out of the team at Liverpool, and the way they’re going, it’ll be a younger team.”
Downing deserves credit for managing to survive even a second season at Anfield after the Liverpool manager informed the much-criticised midfielder that he was surplus to requirements ahead of the January transfer window.
Needing to impress potential suitors, Downing managed to discover some decent form, making his first assist and scoring his first strike in the Premier League for Liverpool in a 4-0 rout of Fulham in December 2012.
It bought Downing much-needed breathing space, and in fact, the £20m signing was rarely out of Rodgers’ first-team in the second half of the campaign as he ended up with three top-flight goals and seven assists.
No wonder, then, West Ham’s final summer signing thought he had resurrected his ailing Liverpool career, despite the arrivals of Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, as well as the emergence of Raheem Sterling.
“After last season, I managed to get back in the team and I was doing well. I spoke to the manager and he said that he wanted me to stay. I think I’m disappointed at that – one minute I was staying and the next I was gone.”
On Friday, Rodgers suggested Downing had been offered an “incredible deal” by West Ham, and the Reds boss was actually keen to keep the midfielder in his squad, with two years to run on the player’s Liverpool contract.
But Downing rubbished his former manager’s claims, insisting the switch to east London was purely about securing regular first-team football ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
“I don’t know about that [an incredible offer]. Obviously I’ve got a four-year contract but having the opportunity to play was the big thing.
“At my age I need to play and in World Cup year I need to be in with a chance.
“Maybe for the club [Liverpool] it was an unbelievable offer but, I don’t know.”
He added: “They accepted the fee.”
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, Downing is ready to consign an indifferent Liverpool career to the past, and the Middlesbrough-born winger is confident he can thrive at West Ham in a side, which he believes, is suited to his style of football.
“I’m coming here to get in the team and I want to play regularly. That’ll be the aim.
“I like Sam Allardyce. The way his team plays, I think it will suit me, especially with the personnel here. Hopefully we have a good season.
He added: “After speaking to the new manager, it feels right. I think sometimes a move can be good for a player, freshen it up. It’s a new challenge for me. I’m sad to leave Liverpool but I’m excited to be a West Ham player.”
And the ultimate aim? The World Cup.
Downing hasn’t received an England call-up since being included in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad – but he didn’t play a single minute in Poland and Ukraine.
However, with many of his new team-mates – such as Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis – hankering to break back into the Three Lions scene, Downing is confident he can impress Hodgson at Upton Park.
“Well that was in my thinking [England], obviously there is a season before World Cup and I probably had more of a chance to play here regularly then I probably did at Liverpool.
“I think that six or seven players in this squad have a chance of going in that World Cup squad.
“So it is just up to me now to just have a good season and play well and then it will be up to Roy to pick me.”
And if, like Allardyce hopes, the 29-year-old can rediscover the Aston Villa Downing, who scored 11 goals and made 15 assists in two seasons, as opposed to the Liverpool Downing, then he has every chance of being on the flight to Rio next summer.