Is it time for Stewart Downing to slide out of Villa Park? (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
I promise you, I'm as surprised to see my name under that headline as you are. And I'd like to put it out front right away: this may be too hasty of a column. If Stewie scores 10 more goals this season, I won't hold it against anyone who just sends me a link of this.
That said, the one thing I took most out of Saturday's win against Manchester City was that in the system we ran, Stewart Downing is done with Aston Villa. If that's the style Gérard Houllier wants to play - and really, who doesn't want to see Villa playing like that? - then it would behoove the club to sell Stewie, either now or in the Summer window.
But why? What has it taken to make one of the staunchest defenders of Downing into someone who wants to see him gone? He's unquestionably one of the best players that Villa have, and his goal scoring and playmaking abilities, but his effectiveness is marginalized when he plays in the middle of the field.
To the consternation of some, Villa opened play on Saturday with Gabriel Agbonlahor on the left wing and Downing in the left-central role. I can't say I was too happy with the setup. When Stewie is on the left wing he has the potential to score, but he also does a fantastic job of setting up the attack. And I thought in this match, with Darren Bent, a playmaker on the left wing would be incredible. Someone to match Marc Albrighton cross for cross on the other side of the field.
It turns out I was wrong. Gabby ended up being a box-to-box player who showed pace, defensive ability, offense smarts, and determination in spades. It was the best game I've seen from him all season. He may not have the same creative stroke that Stewie has, but overall he looked better. And it would be crazy to want to see Gabby leave. He's younger, cheaper, and more of a fan favorite.
Now, I have to make clear that Stewie wasn't bad. He never did anything that drew ire, but by the same token he didn't do anything to deserve praise. He's a relatively expensive addition to the team, and he's only been here for a bit. There are bound to be people like me who love him, but we're in the minority.
And with Stewie gone, Villa could bring in a playmaker of some sort. Maybe another midfielder, or perhaps a creative central forward. The money freed up by Downing leaving could be reallocated to help pay for the new player. The team could look as good as they did on Saturday on a regular basis, but I don't think that involves Stewie. Let's get someone better suited to the central role, and let Gabby stay wide left. He looked too good out there to change, and if he can do that consistently, Villa will be better for it.
I don't want him to go, but I think he should. It's time for Aston Villa and Stewart Downing to part ways.