Aston Villa have opened initial talks with representatives of winger Stewart Downing regarding a new contract.
Downing still has two years remaining of the current deal he signed when moving from Middlesbrough for a then club-record £12 million during the summer of 2009. But Villa caretaker boss Gary McAllister is aware of the need to ensure Downing remains at the club on a long-term basis, particularly with a major doubt hanging over the future of Ashley Young.
McAllister said: "Stewart has got two years left and we are getting into that area where it's coming into our vision. It's in progress at the moment. We are starting to make contact with his agent. We have to keep good players here."
McAllister admits he would vote for Downing as Villa's player of the year and believes he is capable of becoming an England regular. The former Middlesbrough player impressed during the friendly international against Ghana at Wembley in March.
He said: "It's been a very mixed season but Stewart has been very consistent - especially for a forward player in a team that hasn't been playing as well as it can. He would be my pick as our player of the year. I think him having been injury-free is massive. I don't think he has missed a day's training. He came here on crutches (signed when had a broken foot). I think he will gain a lot of confidence from this year.
"Getting another pre-season under his belt, he will benefit from that. There's more to come from him. Another wee target for Stewart is that he has always been in and around that England squad. The question is can he go and become a part of the team? I feel he has enough in his locker to do that."
McAllister also believes Downing is capable of following the example of previous Villa players in Gareth Barry and James Milner in switching from a wide role into central midfield.
He said: "We have looked at that. It's something we have spoken about a lot. We gave him a little run over there against Birmingham at St. Andrew's.
"He has got a fantastic shot that doesn't require much of a back lift so, if we can get him in the central areas and with a sight of goal, you could see us working that in pre-season. He has two great feet. I would categorise Stewart a wee bit differently to Gareth and James.
"That's no disrespect to them but Stewart has a wee bit more in the attacking third. Sometimes you need to change things and it's good to know you have players who can adapt."
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