In the end, Liverpool get the man they've been chasing since the transfer window opened. They get the man who was caught holding up a Liverpool scarf in Spain with Andy Carroll three weeks ago. It will cost the club up to £20M—with, as always, the "up to" being of key importance—an improved offer on the £15M they reportedly bid earlier in the week. It's also worth noting that in between the fee Aston Villa turned down and the one they accepted today, Stewart Downing reportedly handed in a written transfer request.
In the odd world of football transfers, handing in a transfer request means a player gives up any loyalty bonuses he would be due to receive if sold on against his wishes by the club. In theory it's rather sensibly about making it so that a club has to pay off a player that doesn't want to move on—a form of job protection. In practice at the highest levels it means that players hardly ever hand in transfer requests, agitating for a move personally or through agents and the media while awaiting an extra pay day if they don't put into writing that they want out.
For Downing, handing in that request—and in so doing forfeiting a pile of money that would likely allow the average fan to take the next five or ten years (or more) off to do nothing but follow their club around—is a sign of just how much he wanted to join Liverpool. No matter one's personal opinion of the Villa wide midfielder and winger, that's worthy of note. And with that in mind, as well as when one considers how long the saga has dragged on, it's hard to imagine the player won't quickly pass his medical and agree to terms now that the tricky transfer fee has been sorted.
When it comes to fees, too, it's also worth remembering that while many will consider Downing's excessive, it was Downing and not recent £16M Manchester United acquisition Ashley Young who was in fact Villa's player of the season last term. Downing also had two years left on his contract compared to Young's one, and many would consider Downing's tendency to play a larger role in build-up play than United's new and fairly direct winger another point in his favour given Liverpool's stated desire to fully embrace a pass and move game. When it comes to hard returns, Liverpool's newest player registered seven goals and seven assists for Aston Villa last season, a haul placing him second on the team in both categories behind Bent (9 goals) and Young (10 assists). It's a return that would have seen him fourth in goals for Liverpool (Kuyt 13, Maxi 10, Torres 9) and tied for first in assists with Kuyt.
Like fellow new arrival Jordan Henderson, Downing's best qualities can at times be easy to overlook and largely stand to counter the typical causes of grumbling over paying English premiums for overrated talent. In short, he's a technically sound but simple player who possess a football brain. He has decent pace but won't burn past one defender after another all day long; he has a great first touch with his left foot and mostly sticks to knocking the ball one way and using a powerful short burst to buy room for a cross. He'll track back and make the smart passes and, at times, be accused of simply not being flashy enough—or of not being the huffing, puffing, all action and no plot stereotypical English footballer. As put by Barney Ronay in the Guardian recently, Downing is an oddity in the English game, the sort of player likely to be appreciated by those who want to build "a team around neat, skilful, hard-working players rather than false prophets and self‑propelling celebrities."
Another similarity he has with Jordan Hernderson is that last season he made 78 passes that created goal scoring chances, tying him with the former Sunderland man at third in the league in that category. However, that as a player counted on to take the bulk of his side's set pieces and corners, as well as being a frequent provider of crosses, his 72.2% pass completion rate is rather closer to Charlie Adam's 69.6% than Henderson's 77.8% is cause for some concern.
Still, setting aside any reservations that come about almost entirely due to what seems a high fee, it's hard to argue that based on Liverpool's needs Downing isn't the right man for the job—or at the very least a good option for it. Names hailing from elsewhere might carry more cachet, but they would also lack his Premier League experience. And they also didn't hand in a transfer request, telling the world that more than anything else they wanted to join Liverpool Football Club.
While people will argue over whether Jordan Henderson is almost entirely a name for the future, or whether Charlie Adam is an automatic starter in a crowded Liverpool midfield not short on quality, it's hard to image Stewart Downing isn't the one signing to date in this summer window who will walk directly into the first eleven as it currently stands. Like Albert Riera before him, Liverpool's last genuine wide player on the left, he may not seem to be particularly exceptional at any one thing—but he's at least solid at just about everything he'll be asked to do. And like Riera before his personal issues led to a falling out with the club, it's hardly a stretch to think Downing's signing will greatly improve the team even if it's not as flashy a name as some might like.
In the end, it's that and not the fee or Youtube stepovers that matter. He's a player who will improve the squad, full stop. That's all that matters.
Note: You can find more Stewart Downing match compilations on the always exceptional FootyLounge