ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MAY 31: Stewart Downing speaks to the media during the England press conference at the Grove Hotel on May 31, 2011 in Watford, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
The Daily Mail is of course the newspaper famous for telling the world what will be giving them cancer, but they also have a sports department. Who knew? According to vaunted wordsmith SPORTSMAIL REPORTER, Aston Villa have finally accepted the fact that their desires are of little consequence when confronted with the will of the almighty (in this case Liverpool Football Club) and that they've grudgingly told midfielder Stewart Downing that he can leave for redder pastures, assuming Villa's £19 million valuation is met.
In case you couldn't tell, I'm just a bit skeptical of this report. This would be a shockingly abrupt about-face from Alex McLeish, who has been reported as saying he would do all he could to keep Downing at Villa Park. The substance of the article is fairly standard transfer window fluff; Liverpool's interest in Downing is widely known so the story seems plausible, but there are no quotes to back anything up and there are plenty of caveats to give SPORTSMAIL REPORTER a convenient out should Downing not move to Merseyside. Throw in the even more baseless speculation as to how McLeish would go about replacing Downing, and the whole thing looks (unsurprisingly) like a whole bunch of nothing.
Unfortunately, just because I'm less than convinced about the particulars of this particular story, that doesn't mean that there's nothing to worry about. And if Stewart Downing ends up moving to Liverpool, worrying is certainly the correct course of action. With Ashley Young all but gone to Manchester United, the loss of Downing would leave Marc Albrighton as the sole true wide midfielder in the squad. Even if there's re-investment on the wing that still leaves Villa alarmingly thin at what so recently appeared to be a position of great strength and one only need look at the central defense last season to know how quickly that sort of attrition can have a huge impact on the fortunes of the team. Barry Bannan could likely play as a winger but he'd be a huge defensive liability unless the team is playing something like a 4-3-3 with two holding midfielders and the same could be said of Gabriel Agbonlahor, a player that McLeish is likely more inclined to play up top alongside Darren Bent in any case. What's more, if Villa are forced to invest significantly to patch up the holes left by Young and Downing it leaves far fewer resources to fix things elsewhere and that means that treading water looks like an attractive alternative.
The Stewart Downing situation is one to keep an eye on. I'm typically of the belief that clubs are well served to allow players that want to leave to do so as long as they're able to recoup a decent return, but if ever there was a time to hang on to a player at the risk of losing them for nothing down the line, this might be it. Aston Villa without a dynamic attack is quite frankly a legitimate relegation candidate, no matter what sort of witchcraft Villa's new manager is able to perform on the defense. But for now, don't put a lot of stock into what the Daily Mail is saying. I mean after all, these are the folks that thought Alex McLeish would be our new manager.