From unwanted spare part to regular starter, Stewart Downing's time at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers has been an exercise in extremes. Now the winger is determined to hold on to his place in the starting eleven.
A month ago, you would have been hard pressed finding anyone who believed Stewart Downing had a future at Anfield. After arriving the previous season as the club's fourth most expensive signing of all time, Downing had gone more than a year without registering a goal or assist in league play and at times couldn't even make the bench under new manager Brendan Rodgers.
Since Liverpool faced West Ham at the beginning of December, though, Downing has started every match in league play—and gone the full 90 minutes seven of a possible eight times. It's also a run that has seen the much maligned winger record a goal and two assists, his firsts for Liverpool in the Premier League.
"I'd probably say so," was his response when asked if he was on the best form of his Liverpool career. "The first season was patchy, I was in and out, but this year since I came back into the side it's been consistently quite good. It's probably because the team is playing quite well that it's all come together. A good run of games has been good for me. I think I've proven in my career that if I play regularly, I tend to give good and consistent performances."
It's been an unexpected change in fortunes for Downing after Brendan Rodgers criticised him in the autumn, questioning if he had the drive and determination to make it at Liverpool. At time time, Rodgers even suggested Downing should look for a new home come January, as the manager didn't see a route back into the club's long-term plans for him.
"It was very open," he said of his conversation with Rodgers at the time. "I wasn't in the team or playing and he said to me that maybe I could look elsewhere because I need to play at my age. I didn't totally agree, but I understood where he was coming from. Obviously he needs players who are going to play and not be sat about, but I thought in the back of my mind that if I got a chance I could prove myself.
"My aim every game is to make the manager not leave me out. The only way to do that is to perform well. I've basically had nothing to lose in games and I think that's helped me over the last few weeks."
Whether the majority of Liverpool fans will ever truly come around to Stewart Downing given his hefty transfer fee and nearly a season and a half of ineffective play is an open question, but on recent evidence it would be difficult to imagine he won't be in the starting lineup next Wednesday against Arsenal. And suddenly, a month after he seemed destined for the exit door, it's difficult to imagine Downing being sold before January ends.