To many, Sean Downs was a cockroach. But not in a negative way—more in his innate ability to survive, last and escape when all other angles seemed impossible. If a nuclear winter ever arrived, Sean Downs would survive it, down in a bunker somewhere, sat with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gareth McAuley and Santi Cazorla, working out which £7m budget differential to make captain. A popular manager amongst his peers, his managerial record doesn’t read much better than that of a struggling DoDi side – no titles, one promotion, three relegations – and while they’re hard facts, Downs will forever dispute and dismiss them with a mischievous sparkle in his eye and a seemingly infinite number of pivots, distractions and outlandish statements.
While his managerial performance won’t leave a mark on history, his pioneering approach to the press changed the game forever. A cornerstone of FT coverage over the years, his love for the media arguably outstripped his love for the game as the cult of Sean Downs became more about his outspoken personality than his ability to get his players performing. He was never afraid to engage in high profile, high stakes battles with some of the biggest managers in the game—even if Downsy’s 11 failed his combative words. Those three relegations made him the most relegated manager in league history but while those stand as facts, facts have never really prevented Sean Downs from saying what he wanted to say, or doing what he wanted to do. He was a manger that took delight in going against the grain, selecting players no other manager would consider in his quest to stay true to a brand of management focused on differentials and being different.
At his best, Downs was capable of envisioning a captain no-one else would consider, unlocking attacking combinations away from the glare of the top values, and of finding a squad harmony that could last a season. That harmony never translated to glory but it was an admirable measure of a manager who backed many of his players to the hilt, even in their toughest moments. Ryan Bennett, Remy Cabella, Dieumerci Mbokani all speak of manager who was willing to take a risk on less polished talents; Felipe Anderson, Romelu Lukaku and Theo Walcott will tell you Downs is a man of patience when form falters; and Gareth McAuely, Benoit Assou Ekotto and Santi Cazorla will speak of a man who inspired them to become better than they ever thought possible. Downs was a manager of enigmatic talent and ability—on his day, he was capable of beating any side in the game. You could also argue that timing was never on Sean Downs’ side with his greatest moments coinciding with the renaissance of someone else. In 2015, Downs looked set for DoBo glory as his Downsy’s 11 side, powered by Alexis Sanchez, stormed to the top of the division before Reef Younis’ “cacenaccio” tactical approach revolutionised the game and ushered in a period of top-level dominance the game hasn’t seen since. Or in 2017 where Downs’ campaign to return to DoBo was breaking records before Mehdi Daoudi’s Exeter Gently had a miracle seasons they’ll never replicate to take DoWo top spot and make history. Downs has always privately recognised the achievements of his rivals but, crucially, also considered them to be part of his contribution to the game; examples where his talent has raised standards, and elevated managerial peers, to levels they wouldn’t have thought possible unless he was there to inspire them.
Others will remember him more for his inexplicable transfers of Ryan Bennett and Remy Cabella, Downsy Doubles, Downsy Fifteens and that teflon ability to deny reality whilst maintaining a likable rogue’s charm. Despite all of the legal battles, super injunctions and late-night conversations with his right-hand fixer, Arjen de Zeeuw, Sean Downs is a maverick, a one-of-kind manager the game rarely gets to witness but a breed it always needs. Whatever Sean Downs does next, the FT salutes a true original.
This saddens me greatly.David Twigg, Xtal the Pulsewidth
Read the full press conference transcript below:
Sean, shock news emerging from the club. How does it feel after all these years to not be managing Downsy’s 11?
“I love the club, love the fans, love everything about them – they are an institution and will forever be in my heart.”
Different outlets are reporting different outcomes. Some are saying you were fired after a few barren years, others are saying it was a mutual decision. What’s the truth?
“The truth is I was approached by another club in a different league. Downsy’s 11 were in financial difficulties, continuously having their name changed by corporate sponsors and the loss of PTB were all factors. The club needs a fresh face to rebuild it—not an icon like myself.”
So you’re not leaving the game? Can you reveal any more details about your destination?
“No, I am not leaving the game, as mentioned before, I have been approached by a team that live by the same morals as myself.
Do you have a message for the Downsy’s 11 fans? Many remained fully supportive of you in the lean years and there were a vocal section who were highly critical. What would you say to them?
“I love you all. We’ve had our tough times but I have made you the most enviable club in the world. You’ve understood my minimal amount of errors and celebrated my multiple successes. You are my heartbeat and I am your icon. Thank you.”
Sean Downs became synonymous with Downsy’s 11 to the point many found it difficult to distinguish the two. Do you envisage bringing new fans to your future club?
“I am the most followed manager on social media, I have a team of six staff members to deal with my fanmail and I have had to employ a new Head of Security in Tyson Fury. I expect my next destination will become a global phenomenon but it’s important for me not to ignore the existing fans—they are the soul of the club and I can’t wait to share a few WKDS with them at a pre-season friendly in future.”
Do you see this as a fresh start? A chance to drop the baggage of those trophy-less years?
“Have you been to my press conferences before? Get out! Trophies?! Which idiot let him in?! I bring my unique style and I guarantee that wherever I end up, I will become the longest serving top flight manager, just as I was here.”
So, what will success look like for Sean Downs, going forward?
“To carry on being the most feared manager in the franchise and to be a club that is unique and unpredictable.. fans will get there money’s worth.”
Your backroom staff were surprisingly released just a few weeks ago. I presume that was part of the plan until Arjen de Zeeuw was surprisingly announced by DTA. Many believe Arjen was the one thing sustaining your managerial career—the Peter Taylor to your Brian Clough. Is that true?
“They are all coming with me apart from Arjen. I can make no comment on Arjen at this particular moment other than he will find a good home with Stephen at DTA and I’m pleased Arjen is going to a fellow DSOE club.”
Downsy’s 11 felt as though they were a club suited to your style. What can a manager who’s been relegated three times and finished bottom of DoBo twice, bring to another club? Will they have the patience afforded by Murdoch and the board at Downsy’s 11?
“Sean Downs has only competed outside of the top division, once. Please don’t come into this room unless you have done the correct research. I am here to talk about ‘Downs The Manager’ not ‘Downs The Messiah’. I know for some of you, they’re not mutually exclusive but in respect to Downsys 11 I am going to end this press conference with one single message—I love you.”