Football News

Tipped to replace Declan Rice when he was at Ipswich: What West Ham can expect from new signing Flynn Downes

By Ben Green

Published: 15:41, 11 July 2022

Last week West Ham completed their third signing of the summer after David Moyes secured the services of Swansea City midfielder Flynn Downes for £12m.

Linked to a host of elite-level midfield names, Downes was perhaps not the marquee acquisition that West Ham fans were craving when the club confirmed a second successive season of European football, but his arrival has been met with plenty of awe and praise.

A metronomic yet feisty midfielder, Downes moves to a club he has supported since his childhood, adding an emotional undercurrent to this transfer. And while fans will certainly buy into the ‘one of our own’ narrative, this is a result-driven industry, where sentiment is often an outlier.

His acquisition may be a public relations masterstroke, but Moyes has proven a very shrewd operator when it comes to transfers at West Ham. There are a few hiccups, certainly, not least the infamous purchase of Jordan Hugill and yet-to-prove-his-worth Nikola Vlasic, but by and large his track record is immense in E20.

There is certainly a reason he signed Downes, who originally looked set to join Crystal Palace before West Ham came careering in at the Eleventh Hour.

Having burst onto the scene at Ipswich Town, Downes was initially handed his debut by the experienced Mick McCarthy in 2017, before going out on loan to Luton Town in the second half of the 2017/18 season, where he helped guide the Hatters to League One promotion and gained widespread praise at Kenilworth Road.

He returned to Ipswich and immediately cemented a consistent starting berth, which culminated in him being named the club’s youngest ever captain at just 20 years of age when he led his side out for an FA Cup tie against Coventry. It was a meteoric rise to prominence in East Anglia.

Such was his impact that former West Ham goalkeeper Jimmy Walker, who was a coach for Ipswich during Downes’ rise, recently revealed that he once told the young midfielder that he would replace Declan Rice one day in east London.

The ex-goalkeeper tweeted after Downes was announced as West Ham’s new signing: “Not just saying it – u can ask him if u get chance  – but told this kid 2 years ago at Ipswich he’d replace Declan in a few seasons.. thankfully looks like they can play together. Some engine room that.”

Despite his rise at Portman Road, it was in Wales where Downes’ stock truly skyrocketed. The 23-year-old was picked up last summer by Swansea and he took the Championship by storm in 2021/22, flourishing in a side that largely flattered to deceive as the club finished a lowly 15th in the table.

Across England’s top four divisions last season, only Premier League centre-backs Aymeric Laporte (94.76%), Ruben Dias (93.38%) and Thiago Silva (92.75%) boasted a better passing accuracy than Downes (92.62%) among players who racked up a minimum of 1,800 minutes. That means he had the best passing accuracy of any midfielder by those same parameters.

Sticking with that same theme, it would mean that Moyes now has two of the top three most accurate passers from last campaign in England, with Declan Rice boasting a more-than-respectable 91.64%. Walker’s prophecy appears accurate, though the two look set to play alongside one another next term.

He was also the only midfielder in the Championship last season to execute at least 10 offside traps, underlining his penchant to track back and the precise timing of his runs forward. Indeed, he is an intelligent tempo-setter who has honed his craft in the rough and tumble of lower-tier English football, an experience that will stand him in good stead as he makes the Premier League jump.

That statistic alone should highlight why Moyes pounced for Downes. Determination is the buzzword where the Glaswegian is concerned and Downes is a man who doesn’t stop running. That relentless energy should flourish in a team well-orchestrated to run ceaselessly for 90 minutes.

Downes also performs well in the more ‘grittier’ midfield metrics among his former Championship peers. Last season he placed in the top 10 for fouls won among central and defensive midfielders (51) and shots blocked (14), showing his willingness to put his body on the line, a sentiment further echoed by Walker.

When responding to one tweet by a fan asked how good Downes is, Walker replied: “Love him…great lad great attitude will give you everything..he’ll eat that big pitch up and can play… all the makings of a top player for us. Played lots of football now.

“Big step up for him but a bit of time in the building he’s ready.”