2014/15 certainly turned out to be a somewhat disappointing season of two halves for West Ham United and the Upton Park faithful, yet in the case of Stewart Downing specifically, perhaps there was no other player in Big Sam’s squad who experienced such a dramatic drop in form throughout the last term.
Whilst several other important members of the Hammers starting XI also fell short of expectations after the turn of the year – including the likes of Alex Song, Enner Valencia, and even Mark Noble to some extent – the 30-year-old former England international simply seemed like a shadow of his former self as the second half of the season eventually played out.
Downing’s impressive output at the beginning of the 2014/15 campaign has nonetheless seen the former Aston Villa and Liverpool man reportedly receive interest from both Sunderland and Middlesbrough this summer, with such clubs hoping to lure the midfielder away from Upton Park in the run up to the new season.
So then, in light of the no. 11’s frustrating inconsistency last term – should West Ham choose to sell up this summer and spend the resources elsewhere, or does Stewart Downing still have something very meaningful to offer ahead of the 2015/16 campaign?
In the cold light of day, the 2014/15 season clearly outlined where the quick-footed winger is best suited to playing in the modern era, and where he ultimately no longer proves effective out on the pitch. Downing may have been a truly threatening winger for Boro and Villa back in the day, but out wide on the flanks for West Ham, the experienced 30-year-old hasn’t really done the business.
Among the most recent crop of players at Upton Park in the past few seasons, the Middlesbrough born midfielder has often looked far too isolated when played as a winger, his overall impact in such games has failed to have much of an influence on the rest of the team – and even with the likes of Andy Carroll patrolling to box on the counter attack – assists just haven’t come easily for the pacey no. 11 when operating out wide.
Perhaps it should then come as very little surprise that Stewart Downing himself asked Sam Allardyce to specifically play him more centrally last season – which eventually turned out to be the right move for the player in question.
Down the middle, Downing simply thrived across the first half of the 2014/15 campaign, scoring several goals from the attacking-midfield position, and registering many successful assists when operating just behind the likes of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia. His call up to the England national team was completely warranted at the time based on form alone – and through being such an asset for West Ham against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City – Downing could have easily picked up the annual Hammer of the Year award if his performances had continued.
The clear drop in form experienced by the intelligent no. 11 wasn’t all of his own making however. As is usually the case when Sam Allardyce has been involved, Stewart Downing’s lack of influence throughout 2015 was largely born out of managerial decisions more than anything else.
The now ex-West Ham boss seemingly ignored all of the player’s good performances from the first half of the season, and unforgivingly dropped the 30-year-old back out wide after the turn of the year, largely just to re-accommodate Kevin Nolan back into the starting XI.
Even when the central attacking midfield position freed up for Downing though, Allardyce completely backed down towards the tail end of the campaign and opted for his traditional 4-5-1 formation ahead of the previously successful 4-3-1-2 set up.
So then, whilst the player himself must obviously take his fair share of the blame for failing to make much of an impact in the second half of the season, ultimately being played out of position by his manager proved too much of a restriction for Stewart Downing with all things considered.
Slaven Bilic will hopefully have more attacking plans for the team next year, and with the advent of a potentially long and tiring Europa League campaign coming to Upton Park in 2015/16, West Ham simply need all the help they can get at the moment to make sure the squad is big enough to handle such a hefty ordeal.
Stewart Downing should therefore not be sold this summer, unless a ridiculous offer happens to come in later on in the window.
For his match winning form across large spells of last season, the former Liverpool man can certainly be an important player for the Hammers next term – hopefully alongside new-boy Dimitri Payet at times, rather than just acting as mere back-up for the Frenchman on most occasions.