In what is somehow simultaneously shocking and not at all surprising news, Liverpool's official website is reporting that a fee for the transfer of Stewart Downing has been agreed and that the Reds have been given permission to discuss personal terms and administer a medical to the winger. Terms have not as of yet been disclosed but Villa's reported valuation of Downing was in the £19 million range, so it's likely not too far off from such a figure unless another player is coming back the other way.
This move leaves Aston Villa with exactly one wing player who is not a complete unknown, so it seems unreasonable to think that the club won't be bringing in a few new players before the start of the season. And they'd really better be planning on doing so, because Aston Villa without Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and some significant reinvestment look like serious relegation candidates, at least on paper. Villa have been linked (to varying degrees of legitimacy) to Charles N'Zogbia, Salomon Kalou and various other wide attacking types and I'd expect that particular rumor mill to kick into overdrive in the next few days.
I said something similar after James Milner's departure last season and despite the fact things didn't turn out well, I think what we learned last season makes it even truer this time around; Villa have enough holes in their squad that smart investment of the money earned from the sale of Downing could actually make this team better without him than it was with him. But make no mistake, Downing is going to be a very difficult player to replace and what Alex McLeish does over the next few weeks is going to do much to determine both the immediate and longer-term future of Aston Villa. It's equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking and while I'm naturally curious to see where things go from here, I'm also a nervous wreck about this club's future right now. That is not inherently a bad thing, but this is a very crucial time. Alex McLeish and Randy Lerner have got to get this right, or we could very well be in for another bumpy ride, only this time around it could have a far worse ending..