11:47am Thursday 22nd November 2012
By Paul Fraser
MIDDLESBROUGH and Liverpool may not have done a deal for Stewart Downing to arrive on loan before the end of November.
But the mere fact he was willing to consider a drop in to the Championship is an indication of the turnaround under Tony Mowbray.
While there will be those questioning the player's heart and ambition to spend time outside of the Premier League, it is worth considering that turning his back on the top-flight for good has not even been in his thinking.
It is understood Downing would like to succeed at Anfield, but if his manager Brendan Rodgers has already made up his mind that he wants to offload him then he is going to have to consider all of the options avaiable to him.
There will be clubs - like Everton, like Sunderland - who are likely to be interested come January or next summer, if the price and the deal is right when Liverpool decide to sell their £20m buy on a permanent basis.
Downing is 28 and at a stage in his career when an England international shouldn't be sitting in the reserves wondering when his next Premier League start will arrive.
Middlesbrough, who not too long ago were signing world-renowned names such as Gaizka Mendieta, Juninho and Bolo Zenden, have a genuine chance of going up this year and that was one of the reasons he was willing to consider a return.
There was always a chance that Downing, who left for £12m in 2009 when Martin O'Neill took him to Aston Villa, would come back in the latter stages of his career to his hometown club. If something materialises in January then the timing would be earlier than expected.
However, after years of struggle and change on Teesside, Mowbray has worked wonders in changing the atmosphere around the club. There is now a far greater togetherness in the dressing room and that is starting to be reflected in the Riverside's stands.
There is a long way to go for Middlesbrough, sitting third in the Championship, to secure promotion but they are playing nice football, claiming results and have players with a hunger and determination to achieve things.
That outlook and approach is being noted - and that has been highlighted this week by Downing's willingness to consider a return to his first club at this stage of his playing days.
Even if Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Downing are never able to come up with an agreement for a loan deal or otherwise, the last few days should be remembered as an indication of the club's steady progress.
Not too long ago internationals were having to be sold on at the Riverside - some even wanted out. Slowly Mowbray is making Middlesbrough a more attractive force once more.
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