Stewart Downing: Pose a threat across the frontline

Middlesbrough’s versatile midfielder on the skills you need to flourish out wide and punish the opposition through the centre

Add to your arsenal
“When I was at Middlesbrough, one of our coaches would say, ‘You’re just going to use your right foot for the next 10 minutes.’ This forced me to improve my weaker foot. If you rely on using your favoured foot, it’s easier for the defender to mark you – he can shut the line off and show you inside, where you’ll run into more bodies. You’re harder to stop when you can shift the ball both ways and use either foot. Get over the fear of using your weaker foot with plenty of practice.”

Arm yourself with two deadly feet

Tailor your delivery
“If I’m playing with Andy Carroll, I try to hit an area I know he’s going to attack. If I’m playing with Diafra Sakho, I find his feet. If you put the ball in the right areas and no one gets on the end of it, strikers will hold their hands up and say, ‘I wasn’t there’. Don’t try and whip every cross. Focus on getting your body around the ball and making good contact. Make sure you’re stable when you strike the ball; if you’re off-balance you won’t put in a decent cross.”

More after the break

Give your strikers what they want

Be aware of your position
“Out wide, you can come short, spin and run in behind the full-back. When you play at the top of the diamond it’s different. You have to find angles, because you’ve got midfielders and central defenders around you, waiting to hit you with a tackle. You have to get used to receiving the ball side-on, so you can turn and run forward. You also have to think about the movement of your team-mates and how it alters now you’re in a different position.”

Understand your role; adjust your movement

Make an impact
“Our coach Teddy Sheringham [above] says to me, ‘It’s no good just playing in the position; you’ve got to get goals and create – that’s your job’. It’s not just about playing well; you’ve got to be effective. My way of thinking has changed. When you’re there to make a difference in the final third, you’re going to lose the ball sometimes. Through balls will get cut out, but it only takes one to get through to set up a goal. Don’t fear this. Have confidence, be brave and keep trying.”

Don’t hide – keep looking for openings

Placement over power
“As a winger you’ve got to get inside the back post and get goals. In a central role it’s different. When we cross the ball into the box, defenders target Andy Carroll and try to block him. I look for gaps and space around him. It’s about timing. When you’ve got a chance, you must not rush. Teddy says, ‘You don’t always have to whack it – you can place it and put it in the corners’. That’s what I’ve been trying to do – place it in the corners and hit it low and hard.”

Pick your spot in front of goal

Do it in the right places
“It’s all about making the right decisions in the right areas. A lot of players, especially when they’re younger, have unbelievable ability but they use it in the wrong areas. When I was younger and I cost the team a goal by losing the ball in the defensive third, the manager would say, ‘There’s your lesson’. Take chances in the final third – not near your own goal. If you lose the ball further up the field, the opposition still have to travel 60-70 yards before they can harm you.”

Take chances in the final third and not before

Stewart Downing is speaking as part of the new adidas #ThereWillBeHaters campaign, wearing the all-new adidas adizero f50. For more To join the conversation, follow @adidasUK
For more football tips see:
Eden Hazard: Rise to the top
Raheem Sterling: Run your marker ragged
Mario Gotze: Be a creative spark
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Make something happen
Gareth Bale: Terrorise the defence
Lucas Moura: Dribble the Brazilian way
Accelerate and beat your man like Messi
Angel di Maria on the art of wing play
Andres Iniesta: How to boss the midfield

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