Why can’t Stewart Downing show us the form that makes him such a sought after player when he pulls on the England shirt? There is no doubting that at Premier League level, Downing is one of the most dangerous and creative players in the country but after Saturdays performance against Slovakia, it’s clear to see that the lad doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin when he’s around the England squad.
Yet, now the situation is surely set up for him to succeed on the left hand side of England’s midfield. With his main positional rival, Joe Cole, injured, he’s really got a free run to install himself in Capello’s mind and make a strong case for a run in the team. He’s no real other rivals for the left wing slot, Kieran Richardson has really fallen off the radar England wise and Ashley Young is bang out of form right now. It’s the perfect time for him to put a marker down yet he seems to be suffering from the same malaise that affected England’s best left winger of the last 25 years, John Barnes.
Barnes was majestic for Watford and Liverpool but never transferred his sublime skills to the international arena on a consistent basis. I remember watching him in the 1987-88 season destroy Sheffield Wednesday on his own at Hillsborough, even simply walking the ball at his leisure down the left flank, jinking past the full back in the blink of an eye. It became such a consistent issue, that toward the end of his England career, Barnes was booed again and again with fed up fans at a loss to explain why he simply couldn’t cut it.
Maybe it was the lack of serious continental competition that blighted his international career. With English clubs banned from 1985 until 1991, Barnes was almost 29 when he started playing regular European club football, too late to bring a change in his fortunes in the white shirt of England. Yet Downing doesn’t have that excuse as Middlesbrough have had several European games that he’s featured in, especially the incredible run to the UEFA Cup final of 2006 including that incredible semi-final against Steau Bucharest.Downing’s deliver that game was in a class of it’s own.
Yet Saturday saw him look hurried, putting himself under pressure time and again and trying to pass the ball almost before he’d received it. Time and again his passing was way off target and he began to withdraw more and more. So what can he do to sort himself out? He needs to realise he’s in the England squad on merit, not by luck. If Fabio Capello thinks he’s good enough for the England set up, who are we to argue? That alone should show him that he deserves to be in the company of Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard et al.
I don’t think it’s got anything to do with playing for Middlesbrough as some “pundits” will have you believe, though there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll not be there next season if Boro fall into the Championship. Downing just needs to believe in himself more when he wears the three lions otherwise he’ll see his England chances disappear, which would be a crying shame. A bit more belief would also give England another avenue of attack and one that Downing can make his own.