Stewart Downing admits he relished his time playing for Liverpool and believes Kenny Dalgish should have been given longer to prove himself as manager of the Reds.
Following Roy Hodgson's departure in January 2011, Dalglish stepped into the hot seat at Anfield. Following a welcome reception by fans, the Scot was given the Liverpool job on a permanent basis by club owners Fenway Sports Group in the summer of 2011.
Dalglish was handed a kings ransom in transfer funds during the summer transfer window and spent over £50 million on new recruits as he looked to rebuild the team. Downing was the most expensive of the seven fresh faces that arrived at the Merseyside outfit, moving from Aston Villa for £20 million.
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The Kop legend's first full season in charge was given mixed reviews. Liverpool finished a disappointing seventh in the league in the 2011/12 Premier League season, but won the League Cup and were beaten finalists by Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Dalglish was sacked after one-and-a-half seasons during his second stint in charge of Liverpool, but Downing feels his then-manager should have been given more time by FSG whilst the team was still gelling together.
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“I played for a very good manager in Kenny Dalglish, he was very good to me. I’ll never forget what he did to get me to that club," the former England international told BBC Radio Teeside, as per the Liverpool Echo.
“When I was speaking to Kenny, I was thinking 'this is mad, £20m for me to go there', but it put a lot of pressure on Kenny because he spent big that summer. I went to Aston Villa and said to them 'this is Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool football club, you have to let me go' and they were okay about it. I just didn’t think we got time to gel.
“It was strange to see him sacked, they spent a lot of money on players. It’s not going to happen overnight but they sacked him after one year.
“He’s like God at Liverpool, we could be losing but they would be singing his name. That’s how it was at Liverpool, normally the manager would get the flack but he would get his name sang and the players would get the flack!
“He was very good to play for, you could always speak to him and his door was always open. He was just a nice man in general. I was very proud that he signed me to play for Liverpool.”
League Cup Success
Despite poor form in the league, Dalglish ended Liverpool’s six year wait for a piece of silverware. The League Cup is not the most lucrative of trophies to win; however, it was a triumph that was given a very good reception.
Liverpool made hard work of the 2012 final against Championship side Cardiff City; with the pair stalemated at 2-2 after extra time, the Reds won the game 3-2 on penalties.
Downing’s performance in the final was arguably his finest with a liver bird on his chest. His corner lead to Martin Skrtel’s equaliser and held his nerve to score in the penalty shoot-out. Throughout the game Downing, was a menace on the left wing and was awarded man of the match.
Rodgers took the helm at Anfield after Dalglish was sacked and made instant changes. The Northern Irishman sold Charlie Adam, who’d joined Liverpool just one year earlier with Downing, to Stoke City as well as fan favourite Dirk Kuyt amongst others.
Downing become a key player in Rodgers’ side during the end of the 2012/13 season; however, admits the ex-Swansea City boss treated him unfairly during the early months of Rodgers’ reign as manager and left a sour taste in the midfielder’s mouth.
“I had a fall out with the manager in the second year when I didn’t play,” Downing added.
“When Brendan came in, for me, he wanted his own players from day one. I could sense that. We had our ups and downs early on. I told him how I felt and he said the same to me. We didn’t get on.
“I was out of the team and it was October, I was going to leave but Brendan was never going to allow that. I think he’d rather me sat there doing nothing which is a bit strange.
“The team wasn’t doing well so I kept my head down and when we had a few injuries he put me in at left-back. It was strange for me but I enjoyed it. I had a lot of the ball, you don’t have to defend as much playing for Liverpool because they have a lot of the ball.
“Come the end of the season I was a regular playing as a right winger, I really enjoyed playing with Suarez, Sturridge and Coutinho. What’s not to enjoy? I finished the season quite well so it was strange to leave in the summer.”
Despite not having the smoothest of Liverpool careers, which many will remember for not living up to the high price-tag paid, Downing thoroughly enjoyed two years time at the club and has no regrets whatsoever.
“I enjoyed playing for Liverpool, it was a great club and I played with some fantastic players. I look back with good memories, and not that I went there and we struggled.
“They were fantastic fans, a bit like Middlesbrough, very understanding fans. Even if you’re losing, if you pass the ball around they are very patient. It was a great atmosphere in some games and I’ll never forget the cup final. It was a fantastic celebration.
“Playing for Liverpool was an unbelievable experience. In the first season a lot of people said we struggled but we got to two cup finals. I look back on my career and I won a Carling Cup and I should have won a FA Cup against Chelsea. So it wasn’t all doom and gloom.”
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