InterviewDowning on Anfield return, Hendo respect and Elliott potential
“Pressure is on,” says Stewart Downing ahead of his debut for Liverpool FC Legends at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
The former Reds winger will represent the club again this weekend as a squad of famous names takes on Barça Legends in the LFC Foundation charity match.
LFC Legends are unbeaten in each of their previous three home fixtures, with victories over Real Madrid and AC Milan’s teams sandwiching a 5-5 versus Bayern Munich.
Downing, who played 91 games and scored seven goals during a two-year spell at Liverpool, knows expectancy will be high on the pitch and in the stands for the 3pm GMT kick-off, presented by AXA.
- A limited number of tickets are still available for the game – visit www.liverpoolfc.com/tickets/tickets-availability for more details
- Fans can also watch the match on Facebook Live for £1.99. More details on how to purchase a virtual ticket are available here
“Pressure is on, isn’t it?! I’ve actually just read that they’ve not been beaten [at Anfield] yet…” he told Liverpoolfc.com. “Hopefully I don’t jinx it!
“Once you’re out there you want to win and I can imagine the lads I’ve played with, Stevie and Carra, they don’t like to lose.
“I know obviously the pace won’t be as quick as it was when we were playing full-time but the lads don’t like to lose, they’re not going to be there for a ride, playing in front of fans and their families, and fans that have watched you play when you played at your peak. So we definitely won’t want to lose.
“I’m a bit nervous, to be honest! But I’m really looking forward to it, as soon as the lads asked me to play I’ve been trying to tick over and keep fit a little bit. I can’t wait, I’m really looking forward to it.
“To be fair, I feel alright fitness-wise, I’ve just got a bit of a sore left knee, it blows up and down a little bit. But apart from that, I’m alright. I should be alright; they’ve not asked me to play 90 minutes yet, so you might have to ask me after the game how it was!”
The fundraiser will involve familiar Reds faces from several different eras, including the likes of Daniel Agger, Patrik Berger, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Steve McManaman and Maxi Rodriguez.
Downing is keen to team up with those he did not play with just as much as those with whom he shared a dressing room at Anfield.
Asked about his personal targets for the afternoon, the 37-year-old said: “For me, just playing with the lads again and playing with some of the lads I’ve never played with, like Steve McManaman, who I grew up obviously watching but not had a chance to play with.
“So for me, play the game and play with those types of players. Obviously scoring would be amazing, but for me the most important is just playing in that team with those types of players.”
Downing joined Liverpool from Aston Villa back in 2011, the same summer in which Jordan Henderson also completed his move to Merseyside.
The latter, of course, is now club captain and has lifted five major trophies since taking the armband, the most recent the Carabao Cup at Wembley last month.
“You’ve got to give him credit for his attitude, sticking at it, improving every year and it’s no surprise he’s gone on because of his attitude,” Downing said of his old teammate.
“He has played for a few managers, played with a lot of different players but he always seems to play every week. That’s why managers rely on him – because of his attitude and his ability.
“The biggest compliment you can give him is he plays every week; he has got world-class players around him and some of them are getting left out, that’s probably the biggest thing I can give to him.”
Last season was Downing’s last as a professional footballer, one the former England international spent with Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.
Harvey Elliott was at Ewood Park for the campaign, too, the Liverpool No.67 enjoying a hugely productive loan stay during which he netted seven times in 41 league outings.
Elliott impressed in a central midfield role upon his return to the Reds for 2021-22 and continues to stake his claim having come back from a serious ankle injury last month.
“He found himself playing in the middle, he didn’t do that a lot for us at Blackburn, maybe once or twice. But he took the position at the start of the season, playing ahead of some big players,” said Downing.
“You can see his ability for a young player, he’s quite mature for his age; the way he plays and his positioning, he’s not a young player who runs everywhere and is undisciplined, he’s quite mature for his years.
“Going to Liverpool and being coached by Klopp before he went on loan is massive for him because he's playing with world-class players every day, the standard will be unbelievable really.
“Barring injury at the start, he would have had a massive run in the team and you’ve got to give him credit for that. He’s definitely got the ability.”
The legends game is a marquee moment in the LFC Foundation calendar, with proceeds from the match going to the charity, which aims to create life-changing opportunities for young people and families, and a proportion will be donated to Barcelona’s official charity, the Barça Foundation.
Money raised from legends games helps to fund a variety of projects for LFC Foundation and its charity partners, including its employability and training programmes, health and wellbeing programmes, with a focus on mental health, and its international sport and play partnership, Side by Side. These are particularly vital projects, which play a huge part in LFC Foundation’s COVID-19 recovery support.
This year, funds will also go towards supporting Forever Reds, the club’s official former players association, which provides support to the club’s former players in need of care, particularly during the later stages of their lives. The Owen McVeigh Foundation, which provides life-changing memories for children and their families in Merseyside fighting cancer, will also be supported by monies raised from the game.
- You can support LFC Foundation by visiting www.justgiving.com/lfcf and help them to continue to create life-changing opportunities for young people and families.
- Take on our Challenge Reds call and complete fundraising challenges to support LFC Foundation.
- The players will be donating their signed, match-worn shirts after the game that can be bid on here.
- LFC Foundation partnered with Side by Side to use the power of sport to transform the lives of vulnerable children and young people; we are raising £150k to expand our programmes into more high-need communities. You can donate here.