Should Sunderland make a move for Middlesbrough midfielder Stewart Downing?

Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing celebrates after scoring against Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup last season. Picture by Tom Collins.
Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing celebrates after scoring against Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup last season. Picture by Tom Collins.
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A creative midfielder available on a free transfer.

Former England international Stewart Downing won’t be shy of offers this summer after it was revealed the 32-year-old is free to leave the Riverside.

Downing still has two years left on his contract, but new boss Garry Monk has informed him he is free to go after amicable talks.

The development has placed clubs on red alert, but should Sunderland make a move for the winger?

A majority of Echo readers in our online poll were in favour, with 59 per cent of fans keen to see the Black Cats make a move.

Granted, Sunderland have other priorities, with the new manager search ongoing alongside takeover talks but they could do worse than register an interest in Downing. There is, though, a great deal to weigh up.

Experience v waning powers:

Downing offers a wealth of experience, with 408 Premier League appearances under his belt, 37 goals and 59 assists.

No longer blessed with blistering pace, Downing isn’t the same player he was when he broke onto the scene, but that’s not to say he couldn’t still have a big impact in a more central role.

His influence has waned and he only provided three assists and one goal in his 30 league appearances last season, but he uses the ball well when in possession and is still capable of a great cross.

After a falling out with former Boro boss Aitor Karanka at the turn of the year, there was interest in him from Crystal Palace, China and the MLS.

Free agent v wages:

After last season, Sunderland fans have had their fill of older players heading to the Stadium of Light for a final pay day and Downing’s wage demands could put the club off.

The wage bill has been cut by 40 per cent following relegation, but, given income from television money will be slashed, the wages to turnover ratio will remain very high. In the year up to July 2016, the ratio was an alarming 77.6 per cent.

The midfield is the strongest area of a thin squad but more creativity and guile is needed. Downing could tick those boxes.

Close to home:

A move to Sunderland would allow Downing to remain in the North East.

He is familiar with the club, too, having enjoyed a short loan spell at the Stadium of Light earlier in his career, scoring three goals in seven appearances for the Black Cats between October and December in 2003.

Downing did snub Sunderland to sign for his hometown club in a £5.5million move from West Ham in July 2015 and fight for promotion – something he achieved.

“No disrespect to Sunderland, I’ve been there on loan and had a good time there,” he said at the time.

“But when I knew Boro wanted me there was only one place I wanted to come and Steve Gibson is a very persuasive man.”

He will have a decision to make should Sunderland come calling again. Given Sunderland’s budget restrictions under the current regime, due to the £110million debt, the transfer budget looks set to be limited unless new owners arrive quickly with fresh investment.

If not, then free agents and loan signings will be a big factor again, making Downing an attractive proposition, but, while experienced players are needed, fans may prefer younger, more dynamic summer signings.