Sunday, 18 September 2011

Liverpool's Downing reveals all about his Spurs snub

Stewart Downing could have been lining up in a Spurs shirt today if Martin O'Neill had not been blessed with such a silver tongue.


The winger had his heart set on a move to White Hart Lane when he finally gave up on hometown club Middlesbrough three years ago.


But an unfortunately timed injury saw Spurs hold off completing a deal and O'Neill, who was then in charge of Aston Villa, persuaded the England winger to divert to the Midlands.


Liverpool star Downing said: ``In the summer of 2008 I was at Middlesbrough but there were offers to move on, from Spurs and other teams as well.


``But the Boro chairman Steve Gibson said to me there would be investment in the team and we were going to push on again. I was happy at home so said I would stay.


``It didn't really materialise though – obviously there were money issues at the club that I didn't know about.


``I got frustrated because we were struggling and I thought I’d missed an opportunity to move.


``I didn’t really put a transfer request in but went in to express my feelings to Steve Gibson, that if another opportunity came to move to a big club, I’d like to do it.


``Spurs came back in the January but I didn’t force it that I had to move as we fighting relegation.


``I said to Middlesbrough I'd maybe like to do it in the summer and that is how we left it.


``By the time summer came, I was injured and Boro had been relegated. I always had a good relationship with Steve Gibson and he rang me straight away and said there was an offer from Aston Villa and he'd give me permission to go. I just felt it was the right time.


``Because I was injured, I think Spurs were maybe thinking they'd wait until the August but I couldn't take that risk.


``The big thing for me was Martin O’Neill pushed it really hard. The Villa chairman must have been thinking, we are we buying a player and paying him and he's not going to play until October. Spurs must have felt like that.


``But O'Neill was a top man, he pushed all the way to get me there and I really wanted to play for him.


``If someone’s badly injured and he’s out for a few months, they put a lot of trust in you to sign you. I wanted to play for him as soon as I spoke to him. I'm glad he did push it though because I ended up being injured til December!''


Downing can see streaks of O'Neill's motivation skills in his new Anfield boss Kenny Dalglish.


He added: ``As soon I’d spoken to Kenny face to face and heard the plans he had for me he was just someone I wanted to play for.


``He’s like Martin in the sense he pushed the boat out to get me. He worked hard even when it was getting tough and I thought the deal wasn’t going to go through with the fee not being agreed.


``He kept going and going and going. Credit to him, the only way I can repay him is by playing well.


``Martin O’Neill was the same. He could make you feel like the best player in the world at times, the influence he had on you. The way he used to speak to you.


``He might not speak to you all week, then on a Saturday...`You’re the best player in the world son.'


``He is that type of man. You could see it, he used to do it with Ashley Young and players like that. It helps their performance, even if he doesn’t mean it, it still brings the best out of players.


``I think Kenny is more the same, but in a quieter sense. He might pull you to one side, I don't think he'll praise you a lot but it will be more keep pushing and pushing, he demands from players which is what I like.''


The England wideman got plenty of flak from Villa fans in the summer for making it plain he wanted to head to Anfield despite earlier talk of his loyalty to the club.


And he makes no bones about the fact he feared missing out on a move to Liverpool would leave him with regrets when it comes to hanging up his boots.


Downing added: ``When people were saying 'you say you're loyal and then you walk out on us', it was a difficult decision.


``It wasn't like I'm going to Liverpool, end of story. I spoke to Villa’s Chief Executive, I said I know you bought me injured and I respect you. I told him I got my head down and got on with it when things were not going right at the club. I never moaned.


``But I just thought I’m 27 and it was my chance to go to the next level and if I don’t take it now I won’t get that chance again. Managers might be thinking he’s too old and I'm not going to pay the money.


``That is why I respect Kenny, he has paid a lot of money for a player coming into his late 20s. It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. People say I didn’t show any loyalty and stuff like that but I think you’ve got to make the most of your career in any job. And this is a step up.''


Follow me on Twitter @jezbutler

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