Stewart Downing confirmed that his Liverpool days are numbered after revealing that manager Brendan Rodgers told him he could leave the club in January if he wished to do so.
Following their 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, the Reds are now as long as 8/1 to secure a top-four berth this season and Rodgers clearly wants to free up space on the wage bill to bring in some reinforcements to reignite their charge.
Downing has never got the rub of the green from the Northern Irishman since he took over in the summer, having been shunted to left back to cater for Raheem Sterling’s meteoric rise. Though even when the teen sensation has been utilised in a different position, Rodgers still favoured playing Jose Enrique wide on the left ahead of the England international.
So, with his Anfield exit almost rubber stamped, could a return to hometown club Middlesbrough be on the cards?
The Championship promotion hopefuls unquestionably do not have the resources to fund Downing’s reported £80,000-a-week wages, nor pay a transfer fee, but a loan move until the season’s end could be feasible.
Boro youth academy product Downing thrived at the Riverside in what was the most successful period in the Teesside clubs’ history and would surely welcome the opportunity to link up with his old team again just as another hometown hero, Jonathan Woodgate, recently opted to do.
Any return home would only be temporary, but it’s difficult to see where his Premier League future lies.
West Ham’s style of play would suit Downing’s game as a direct winger whose biggest asset is to whip a ball in to the box, yet that was Kenny Dalglish’s plan for him at Liverpool and, evidently, that didn’t work out.
Stoke remain another contender having resurrected the careers of wingers such as Matthew Etherington and, to a lesser extent, Jermaine Pennant in recent seasons, but financially, they would struggle to secure Downing’s services.
Newcastle are a viable option having both the fiscal pulling power as well as the infrastructure to succeed in the Premier League, yet with their top flight status in serious jeopardy it’s unlikely either party would take such a big gamble with so much hanging in the balance.
There are more than likely to be plenty of Premier League suitors in the longer term, especially if Liverpool were prepared to waive the majority of the £20m they paid for him last year, but, as a more immediate solution to his problems, a return to Middlesbrough looks the most logical move for Downing.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date