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Madness? No way, it's a magical move; The sceptics couldn't believe Stewart Downing would want to come home - but he has! DOMINIC SHAW looks at why the switch was so appealing.

Byline: DOMINIC SHAW

THEY were out in force. The sceptics, that is.

Keypads bashed in a state of frenzy, a state of shock, a state of utter bewilderment.

Why would a player of Stewart Downing's pedigree drop to the second tier by his own accord? Why would a player, who only seven months ago was the star of a side on a surprise Champions League push, swap that for a promotion chase? Why would he resist the opportunity to move elsewhere in the top flight? To join the Dick Advocaat revolution, if there is such a thing, or to welcome West Ham into a bidding war to see which other Premier League clubs come calling.

And then there were those who had reservations from another angle, those who were dubious about Boro's multi-million pound investment in a man who has 30 years already behind him.

"Take the romance out and that's madness," scoffed one tweet.

Madness? I prefer to think of it as magical.

Stewey coming home to complete the football circle; to end his career, his fantastically ful-filled career, where it all started out.

To return to the turf where he burst on to the scene, to look up to the North Stand where a sea of pointing fingers demand the ball is played into his gifted feet, to strut over to take a corner and to be embraced by those who shared his dreams as a kid, to pull on the shirt not only as a player, but as a fan.

Remember that clamour for Downing to start when he wasn't merely knocking on Mc-Claren's door but hammering the thing down after making the left flank his own in a few fleeting early cameo appearances as a kid? That clamour's returned in the last couple of weeks - this time, 12 years on, it's been to bring him back.

What started out as a whisper quickly gathered pace. Initial scepticism of reports of Downing's desire to come home was replaced by excitement, belief.

And it was that desire on the player's part which makes the move what it is.

This isn't a player whose legs have long buckled, who looks back upon his finest years instead of extending them.

This is a player who was one of the stand-out chance creators in the top flight last year, a player whose left foot is still as pinpointedly accurate as Phil 'The Power' Taylor's right hand when he spears an arrow into the treble 20 bed on the oche.

And in a footballing landscape in which Raheem Sterling dedicated his summer to mauling his own reputation to gain a PS49m move on the back of oneand-a-half good seasons, a landscape in which players like Shay Given agree one move only to complete another a matter of hours later, Downing's move should be lauded. It should be celebrated.

Just last week Asmir Begovic swapped Stoke for Chelsea, in doing so one of the most highlyrated goalkeeepers in the Premier League surely swapped the pitch for the bench.

That right there is madness. And then there are those attracted to the cash like bees to honey, jetting off the to the Middle East or over the pond for one final payday. Who can blame them? That sort of money would be almost impossible to resist.

Yet instead of urging his agent to bolster his bank balance, Downing urged the Hammers to rubber stamp his move back to where it all started out.

In this case devotion to come home overpowers the lure of dollar, and it's welcomingly refreshing.

It's by no means a charity case. Downing isn't coming home to play for nothing. Anything but. He'll still be picking up a more than healthy wage packet, more than the vast majority of players in the Championship, and will be undoubtedly guaranteed a hefty increase if he helps Boro win promotion.

But his weekly figure will be significantly less than what he could have earned at Sunderland or any other top flight club.

Cash isn't the pressing matter here though, "unfinished business", the words of Downing when he left the club almost six years ago to the day, is.

Downing's drop to the Cham-pionship shouldn't be looked down upon as a lack of ambition, it should be celebrated as an act of loyalty.

A club hero pulling out all the stops to sign another club hero, one of our own digging deep to welcome back one of our own.

The fairytale return. The career circle complete.

It's not sentiment. It's a superb signing on the pitch stacked with importance and galvanising spirit off it.

Yet the story is far from finished. The boy wonder returning to his hometown club isn't the happy ending.

CAPTION(S):

Stewart Downing with Bolton's Tal Ben Haim during his first spell with Boro |

| Stewart Downing celebrates a goal with West Ham team-|mates Carl Jenkinson and Andy Carroll last season. But he has turned his back on the Premier League for a return to his hometown club with the aim of helping them win promotion from the Championship
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jul 17, 2015
Words:849
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