It would appear as though Liverpool's pursuit of Stewart Downing is being kicked up a notch, as the Guardian is reporting that the Reds £15 million offer for the England international has been rejected by Aston Villa. Alex McLeish has repeatedly said that he has no desire to sell the 26-year-old winger, but indications are that the club would be likely to accept an offer in the £20 million range should one be submitted. It is also rumored that Liverpool could offer David N'Gog as a makeweight, though the 22-year-old striker rejected a similar arrangement during negotiations to lure Jordan Henderson to Anfield from Sunderland.
From a market perspective, £15 Million is likely on the low end of fair for Downing but from Villa's perspective such a sum is woefully inadequate. With the departure of Ashley Young to Manchester United earlier in the summer, the club can scarcely afford to lose another dangerous attacking player; somehow must provide service to Darren Bent if the striker is going to score, and while Marc Albrighton can likely pick up some of the slack left by Young's departure he cannot be counted on to bridge the gap caused by the loss of Downing as well. Clearly the sale of Downing would allow for some reinvestment in the squad, but Villa are already in a situation where upgrades are needed if they hope to avoid the relegation battle.
At a certain point, the return for Downing would be too much to resist. £15 million isn't that point. I'm less opposed to the idea of N'Gog coming along than many others, but only once the offer approaches £20 million would I consider the swap to be good business. Downing has two years left on his deal, meaning Villa aren't yet in a situation where they risk losing him for nothing and if the club can improve upon last year's tumultuous season it's possible he could be persuaded to stay. There's quite simply no point in selling the winger unless Liverpool are willing to pay well above fair market value-much like Manchester City did for James Milner last season-and Villa were right to reject Liverpool's offer.
With that said, Villa can scarcely afford to let the negotiations continue to drag on. Downing's future needs to be made clear right away, and if that means putting a firm value on Downing's service's and walking away from negotiations with Liverpool immediately if they aren't willing to pay up, so be it. Long, drawn-out transfer sagas are poison, both to the fans and to the manager's squad construction plans. If Liverpool want to pay what Downing is worth to Aston Villa, fine. If not, they're free to look elsewhere.