STEWART Downing just wants to enjoy his football again.

The former England winger arrives at Ewood Park after contractual issues soured his final season at hometown club Middlesbrough.

Downing flew out of the blocks in 2018/19 and was set to play a key role in the push for the Championship play-offs at the Riverside Stadium.

All that came to a shuddering halt when having made start number 22 for the season in a 2-0 win against Ipswich Town on December 29, the 34-year-old was told there was a problem.

Boss Tony Pulis had been informed he couldn’t make another because that would trigger an extension in his contract.

In limbo, Downing was used as an impact substitute until in April he signed a new deal which waived his right to another year.

“The first six months of the season were fantastic to be honest,” said the former Liverpool, West Ham United and Aston Vila man.

“We were flying and in the top two or three.

“The conversation at the start of the season was I had a year left with an extension due on games and the club were pretty comfortable and never mentioned a problem.

“I had to play 50 percent of the games and did 22 and then got pulled in by the manager to say he couldn’t play me.

“It was a difficult situation for him, I don’t know if he knew it was coming, but it was difficult for me too.

“I played 22 games off the belt and all of a sudden I am out of the team.

“The most difficult part was training all week knowing I couldn’t start so it didn’t matter how well I trained or how I did in games coming off the bench, I couldn’t start.

“It got really difficult and in the end I signed a contract to play without receiving an extension which is something I shouldn’t have had to do but I really wanted to play.

“I am 34 years old and the manager said to me, 'it helped because you got games and kept fit and put yourself in the shop window' which helped me get the move here so I am glad I did it but it was something I shouldn’t have had to do.”

All those issues off the field only further strengthened Downing’s feeling that the time was right to move on.

He departed Teeside having made 404 appearances across two spells for his hometown club.

That included being on the bench for the League Cup final win in 2004 and then playing in the UEFA Cup for the following two years, losing to Sevilla in the 2006 final.

“I was due a change anyway,” said Downing, who won 35 England caps.

“A lot had gone on during the four years since I returned. Different managers, different scenarios things like that.

“There were things I wasn’t happy about. I just wanted a fresh challenge.

“I’m at the tail end of my career and I need to enjoy it.

“I wanted something fresh and towards the end of my season I’d probably made my mind up I was going to leave.”

As well as contractual issues Downing admits he probably wasn’t best suited to Pulis’ pragmatic style of play, something he sees being different under Tony Mowbray at Ewood Park. 

Boro finished the season in seventh which cost the manager his job with Jonathan Woodgate the man now in charge heading into the new campaign.

“I think the way the manager plays here suits my game,” Downing said.

“His ideas and how he sees me fitting into the team, that’s why I made the decision I did to come here.

“At Middlesbrough I was maybe asked to do a certain job that wasn’t in my position or the way I play football.

“But you have to do a job for the team and the manager picks you to play so you follow his instructions.

“It was difficult. I’m not going to blame anyone or the managers that I played for but it does suit me more to play for a football-based team and that’s the way the manager wants to play here.”

Downing’s assertion that he’s a good fit for Rovers then begs the question, where will he slot in?

Off the right? Off the left? In behind the striker?

While Mowbray has sung the praises of his versatility, the veteran has his own ideas about where he might be best placed to help Rovers improve on 15th in the Championship.

“I know I’m left footed but when I left Middlesbrough the first time I played on the right a lot and quite enjoyed it,” said Downing, who has been joined by another experienced head in Bradley Johnson as a new arrival in East Lancashire. 

“I had a really good time at West Ham playing as a number 10 in a system that is similar to what the manager has here.

“There’s competition here of course. Bradley Dack’s a number 10, Joe Rothwell and others.

“Anywhere along that frontline I can play.

“I think I could be effective in midfield as well with the way the manager likes to play here.

“He knows I'll play anywhere – as long as I’m not in goal or centre back!”

For all the issues he had last season, Downing can at least be rest assured there's no danger of that happening at Ewood Park.