It was a late return to Blackburn Rovers for Stewart Downing this season.
Having been hugely impressive during his debut campaign at Ewood Park in 2019/20, it was no surprise to see Rovers offer the veteran midfielder a new contract last summer.
However, it was not until the start of November that it was confirmed that Downing had put pen to paper on a new contract with Blackburn until the end of next season.
So have things gone for Downing since his return to Blackburn? What issues does the former England international face at Ewood Park? And what could be next for the 35-year-old?
Here, we take a look.
How’s it gone so far?
In short, things have been rather frustrating for Downing since his return to Ewood Park three months ago.
The midfielder has appeared in just eight of the 18 league games since his return to Ewood Park, starting only once in that time, when he was substituted after an hour of the 1-0 win over Luton.
Admittedly, there have still been flashes of quality shown by the midfielder, but the lack of a run in the side appears to have prevented Downing from building the momentum that saw him become such a key member, and regular feature of Tony Mowbray’s side last season.
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What issues does he face?
Downing is unlikely to be pleased with the amount of game time he has had since re-signing for Blackburn, but it may not be easy for him to change that.
Other than Downing, Blackburn’s squad currently possesses a long list of high-quality midfielders, including the likes of Joe Rothwell, Lewis Travis and Jacob Davenport, while Bradley Dack has also played in a deeper role on occasions since his return from injury.
Given those players are at a much earlier stage of their career than Downing, you feel it is they that Mowbray would prefer to turn to going forward, potentially with a view to the future as well as the current campaign, meaning there is a possibility it could be a quiet next few months for Downing.
Blackburn do have something of a heavy fixture schedule on the horizon, and Downing will hope that that will give him an opportunity for more game time with the need to rotate, to cope with both fatigue, and the sheer number of injuries Rovers continually seem to accumulate.
However, if he is unable to really make an impression on the side before the season ends, then Downing could soon have to make the biggest, and perhaps hardest, individual decision in football.
At 36-years-old and with his contract expiring at the end of this season, the question of retirement is clearly hanging over Downing, with the midfielder recently admitting that he could retire and move into coaching if he does not get more game time before the summer.
But with the former England international also suggesting that he could play on for another season if he is able to force his way into the side, it seems as though these could be some of the most significant months of Downing’s career, with Blackburn’s position in the Championship play-off race an extra issue for the midfielder to consider as he contemplates his future.