Middlesbrough FC's George Boateng called Stewart Downing 'England's Arjen Robben'.
By Tom Rollett
Middlesbrough FC meet FK Partizan in their final UEFA Cup group game on Wednesday, safe in the knowledge that both sides are already through to the knockout stages.
Middlesbrough fought back from 2-0 down with eight minutes left to earn a 2-2 draw against Southampton FC in their weekend Premiership game. The star of the show was Stewart Downing, whose added-time strike was enough to earn him the promise of an England call-up by Sven-Göran Eriksson.
Downing on the up
Boateng admits he is one of the youngster's biggest admirers. Speaking to uefa.com, he said: "Downing's a young guy with bags of talent and he's got a great future ahead of him. In every game he is a revelation for us. He's adapting to new situations all the time and so far he's risen to every challenge. Sometimes he's double-marked so he has to change his position or come inside to find space, but he does that, no problem. He's almost a complete player already. He's quick-footed and the way he controls the ball at speed is amazing.
He added: "For me he's the English Arjen Robben, I really think he's that good. They both like running at defenders, they've both got a good strike and vision, skills and pace. The only advantage that Robben has is that he's already played in a major international tournament, but that experience will come for Stewart soon, I'm sure."
Downing's progress can only be furthered by Middlesbrough's remarkable start to their first European campaign. Their achievement is one that Boateng feels that no one should underestimate. He said: "This is our first ever season in Europe and when we were drawn in such a tough group, including sides like Villarreal [CF] and [S.S.] Lazio - not to mention Partizan - there were question marks over how far we would go. But we have shown everyone that we have made great progress, and shown we belong at this level."
With a hectic domestic winter schedule fast approaching for the Premiership team, manager Steve McClaren must be sorely tempted to put out a second-string side against Partizan. But any suggestion they will ease off against the Serbo-Montenegrins is met with short shrift by midfield player Boateng.
"It's nonsense to suggest that our game against Partizan is meaningless," he said. "We want to win it for many reasons. We want to finish first in our group, because then we might get a better draw, and we want to set the tone for our Premiership match against Aston Villa [FC] at the weekend.
"I've no idea if the boss will give people a rest or not," he added. "It's a home game that we want to win, and it will be good for our confidence if we get a good result. Speaking for myself, I want to play because I was suspended two weeks ago against Manchester City [FC] and if I get a chance to play then I want to take it."
Boateng, however, may be forced to sit this one out, having picked up a knock at Southampton. "I certainly don't want a rest, as there are lots of important games coming up and I want to be a part of them," he said. "However, I hurt my ankle, so at the moment I must be rated doubtful."