STEWART DOWNING has admitted his failure to score a Premier League goal in his debut season for Liverpool FC is a source of embarrassment.
Signed for £20m from Aston Villa by Kenny Dalglish last summer, the 27-year-old not only failed to find the net – he did not manage an assist either.
At the same time, he was the only outfield player to make some sort of on-field contribution to all nine England games during 2011, and has played in two out of the Three Lions’ three matches this year.
And the Liverpool winger is in line to hold off the claims of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the left-sided midfield berth in England’s Euro 2012 opener against France in Donetsk on Monday.
With Downing it seems the glass is either completely full or totally empty.
Naturally, he does not view the situation in quite such simplistic terms and bristles with indignation at what the statistics appear to say about his contribution.
However, there is no getting away from that zero in the goals column. And it is one he does not like.
Asked if his failure to net last season was embarrassing, he said: “The goal thing is.
“The fact is I didn’t get enough goals.
“I hit the post and the bar many times and missed a few chances so I was disappointed, especially when I scored goals for Aston Villa the year before.
“Sometimes you are on a run and get goals; sometimes you don’t. I try to score and maybe next season I will get 10 or 15.
“Football is like that. But I am disappointed I did not score enough.”
Downing is adamant he will be stronger because of the criticism he endured during an “up and down” debut campaign for Liverpool last season.
Downing has been identified as one of the negatives from a tumultuous campaign for the Merseyside giants.
The 27-year-old left Aston Villa for £20million last summer, yet failed to contribute either an assist or a goal to Liverpool’s Premier League campaign, which ended with them finishing eighth.
Evidently, owner John Henry was unimpressed and promptly dispensed with manager Kenny Dalglish’s services, bringing in Brendan Rodgers as the Scot’s replacement.
Yet Downing has remained a regular member of the England squad and has been tipped to start their Euro 2012 opener against France in Donetsk on Monday as Wayne Rooney serves the first match of his two-game ban.
“Criticism makes you stronger,” said the winger.
“You are always going to get criticised at a big club like Liverpool but it is a great club to play for.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my first season and I am sure we will be better next year.”
As Liverpool’s troubles continued, so the mirth at Kenny Dalglish’s repeated insistence his side was doing nothing wrong grew louder.
Yet Downing is adamant there was some truth in his old manager’s assertions, even if the eventual outcome – Dalglish’s sacking – tells a different story.
“A lot has been said about Liverpool and the fact we didn’t perform but we battered teams at Anfield at times,” he said.
“I can think of one or two bad performances. Most of the time we were very unlucky.
“We just didn’t have that killer instinct. The manager said there wasn’t much you could say and that was probably right.
“But a lot of new players signed, we played in two cup finals and came away with a medal so there were a lot of positives to come out of it as well.”
Meanwhile, new Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has thanked Swansea fans for their support during his time at the south Wales club in an open letter.
It does seem strange that, thanks to the late call-ups for Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly, there are now six Liverpool players in the squad, more than any other team.
Four have a realistic chance of starting too, with Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson virtual certainties, whilst Downing and Andy Carroll are in the reckoning as well.
Jermain Defoe’s departure following the death of his father should not affect Roy Hodgson’s team selection too much as the Tottenham man was set to be used as an impact player against the French.
It is not yet known whether Defoe will return in time to be involved.
Of more immediate importance is confirmation, through goalkeeper Joe Hart, that John Terry came through a closed-doors training session, England’s first since they landed in Poland yesterday evening.
“He was fine - flying round like he does,” said the goalkeeper. “He doesn’t seem to be holding back.”