Could Stewart Downing be the latest Villa player to move to a bigger stage?

This week saw Aston Villa turn down a reported £15million bid from Liverpool for winger, Stewart Downing. While Liverpool consider an improved offer, with Downing’s current employers reportedly willing to accept a fee of nearer £19milliom, Villa fans will be dreading the possible departure of another key member of their squad.

With Ashley Young already departing Villa Park in search of silverware with Manchester United, Villa lost one of the Premier League’s most prolific providers. In the last five Premier League seasons, only Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, managed to provide more assists than Young. However, as Young looks to cement his England place and search for domestic honours, his move away from Aston Villa has an all too familiar feel.

In the two previous summers, Aston Villa have lost big-name players, seeking greater challenges at new clubs, with Gareth Barry and James Milner moving to Manchester City in consecutive summer transfer windows. While both transfers commanded large fees, the continued exodus of the spine of Aston Villa’s squad leaves the squad an increasing shell of Martin O’Neill’s side who were on the cusp of Champions’ League qualification just two years ago.

However, two managers later, with Barry, Milner and now Young all departed from Villa Park, Aston Villa’s new manager, Alex McLeish immediately finds himself with a bigger challenge than he may have anticipated. While his predecessor, Gerard Houlier, secured the major signing of Darren Bent from Sunderland in January, McLeish is looking at beginning his preparations ahead of his first season at Villa, without one, possibly two of last season’s squad, while McLeish will undoubtedly be looking to reinvest any transfer funds, his squad is looking increasingly incomparable to that which arch-rivals, Birmingham city faced under McLeish’s leadership prior to his controversial summer move.

Alex McLeish’s overall objective will be to improve on Aston Villa’s ninth-place finish last season and closer to challenging the top four as his new club were close to doing in recent seasons. With high profile departures, particularly in captain Barry, and losing key creative options in Milner and Young, in addition to other departures such as John Carew and Nigel Reo Coker, McLeish appears to have inherited a transitional Villa side. If McLeish was hoping to rebuild this Villa side to challenge for honours, his plans may be dealt a severe blow should his side lose another creative option in Downing.

Aston Villa being a club challenging for honours will be a fairly recent memory for many supporters, with Villa appearing in the Carling Cup Final just last year. However, as Villa continue to fall away from the race for European qualification; departures from Aston Villa will certainly improve the quality of the squads above them. As Manchester City and Manchester United now boast former Villa players in their ranks, the potential transfer of Stewart Downing to Liverpool could be the next step in Villa losing players to the lure of chasing honours with more successful clubs.

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