FEW players have tracked Brendan Rodgers’ debut Anfield season quite as faithfully as Stewart Downing.
From early Europa League encouragement, the sharp reality check of the Premier League, the autumn wilderness and the New Year revival, Downing’s rollercoaster campaign has largely mirrored that of the new manager.
Except, of course, with one substantial difference.
While Liverpool manager Rodgers still has the luxury of time to demonstrate why Fenway Sports Group have bestowed such faith in his abilities, Downing admits he has tried the patience of the Anfield outfit for the final time.
The winger’s tendency of flattering to deceive prompted Rodgers in November to inform Downing he was free to find a new club in the January transfer window.
Circumstance has since dictated the England international should come in from the cold and finally begin to demonstrate why Rodgers’ predecessor Kenny Dalglish rubber-stamped an £18million move for the player from Aston Villa more than 18 months.
Inspired man-management or pure good fortune? Whatever the reason, Downing knows he cannot let this opportunity slip.
“This is probably my last chance,” he says. “The manager was looking at bringing players in, he missed out on a couple (in the summer) who could play in my position and that helped me get a chance.
“He strengthened again in January with people who can play in my position, so the only thing I can do is if I keep playing well so he can’t leave me out, basically. That’s how I see it.
“Every time I play is a chance to prove him wrong and to show him I am worthy of a place in the team. That’s my attitude going into games at the minute.”
Downing scored the first goal of the Rodgers era in the Europa League win at FC Gomel and started the opening Premier League game at West Bromwich Albion, who are the visitors to Anfield this evening.
But having been sacrificed at the Hawthorns following Daniel Agger’s red card, Downing didn’t start another league game for three months – shortly after being told he was surplus to requirements.
“It was like a bolt from the blue,” he says. “I’d not played much so I didn’t see that I had done a lot wrong.
“I didn’t want to leave. When you look back on your career, you want to have been playing for a club like Liverpool for a long time.
“But it looked like my chance had gone. The team was doing okay and I wasn’t even getting on the bench at times.
“There was disappointment that I hadn’t had a chance to prove to him I could play in that system, but things changed quite quickly after that conversation.
“I just thought I needed a chance to play as the system the manager was playing suited me. I had to fill in at left-back for a while, which I hadn’t done before.
“But to play in my proper position higher up the field, whether it’s on the right or the left, I think it’s gone quite well since I was put in there.”