A prodigiously talented player shone at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, his £20m transfer fee seemed in line with his skills.
Yet his year at Liverpool mirrored Liverpool's year, with his only highlight the League Cup win (in which he was man of the match), a rare highlight in a season that was so mediocre that his Wikipedia page was hacked when he was included in an England squad for Euro 2012.
New Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is apparently not impressed by his inherited player's ability on the wing, but at least he has come up with a solution: become a defender, Downing has been told, or get ready to move clubs for the third time in four years.
Rodgers is bullish about the idea. "'I think it is a big possibility that he can play there. If you look at the modern-day full-backs, (Jordi) Alba and Ashley Cole — Ashley Cole was a centre-forward," he said.
"There is no point putting a player into a position he doesn't want to play. But when you speak to someone and tell them what the future could be, along with the qualities that he has, there is no doubt that in the modern game, he could play that role."
Could it work, though? Here are our top 10 players who switched positions during their careers, with varying degrees of success:
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10. Javier Mascherano — The Argentine international was an outstanding midfielder at Liverpool, but since his move to Barcelona has invariably played as a centre-back.
9. Dion Dublin — Started out as a centre-back at Norwich, but became famous as a prolific striker first at Cambridge and then at Coventry City. Returned to the back later in his career, memorably at Leicester City, where he lost his spot up front but was still good enough to play at the back - and indeed his ability to fill in as a centre-back very nearly won him a spot in England's squad for the 1998 World Cup. Funnily enough another Norwich legend, Chris Sutton, also went from playing at the back to starring up front.
8. Alan Smith — Started out at Leeds as a striker and occasional winger, but Alex Ferguson persuaded him to move back into midfield after he moved to Manchester United.
7. Moussa Dembele — The Fulham player who is set for a big money move to Tottenham, started life as a striker at AZ Alkmaar, but converted himself into a silky midfielder at Craven Cottage.
6. Lothar Matthaus — The German legend began his career as an attacking midfielder but moved gradually backwards throughout his career until he ended his days as a sweeper and even a centre-back at times.
5. Marouane Fellaini — The Belgian was bought by Everton as a defensive midfielder but has progressively moved up the pitch and now operates as a terrifying target man.
4. John Charles - The Welsh giant spent the first three years of his career at Leeds playing as a centre-back, but an injury crisis saw him being thrown up front - and he started scoring by the hatful. Went on to play regularly in both positions, scoring 150 times for Leeds and netting 93 Serie A goals in five years at Juventus.
3. Jorge Campos - The famous Mexican goalkeeper of the 1990s scored 14 goals in his first full season as a pro, when he played as a striker. He might have stayed up front for good had rival keeper Adolfo Rios not moved clubs, allowing Campos to get between the sticks where he felt he truly excelled. That choice was a good one: he went on to collect 130 caps for his country, though he continued to play as a striker on occasion. He was often thrown up front when his side were chasing a goal.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo — Started life as a flamboyant winger with tricky feet but inconsistent end product before being converted to a lethal centre forward. Thierry Henry also followed pretty much the same path.
1. Phil Neville — While some players have managed to shine in different niches, the Everton and former Manchester United star has managed to shine in his niche of being able to play just about anywhere. Changing positions twice in a career is a lot for many footballers; Neville has been known to do it twice in a match!
We know we may have missed out a few favourites, so leave your suggestions below - bonus points for anyone who talks about Alan Shearer's career as a goalkeeper!