The England international has previously played for the Black Cats on loan from Middlesbrough in 2003, and boss Steve Bruce is thought to be a keen admirer. Aston Villa have rejected the offer saying that the player is not for sale under any circumstances.
Downing who signed for Villa in 2009 for a fee of £12 million has had a solid season weighing in with five goals in his 21 starts this term. Downing scored his first two goals for Villa in their 5-2 league thrashing of Burnley late last season.
Sunderland will now turn their attention to Wigan’s former Newcastle winger Charles N’Zogbia. Wigan accepted a bid of £8 million in the summer from Birmingham, but the former France U-21 international decided he wanted to stay put in Wigan.