Football: The Sweeper - Never an easy ride for Konjic

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The Independent Online
NO DOUBT Bill Shankly would have had the good sense not to tell Coventry's new Bosnian international, Muhamed Konjic, that football is more important than life and death. Yet, had it not been for football, some of Konjic's own family and countrymen might never have survived their war-torn country.

After what Konjic has been through, a relegation struggle with the Sky Blues - which would become that much more likely with defeat in the derby at Villa Park today - would be just a minor hiccup in his career.

The big central defender may have joined Coventry for pounds 2m from Monaco but a transfer earlier in his career, from FC Sarajevo to NK Zagreb, was paid in food parcels. Indeed his salary while in Croatia continued to be paid in the same kind, with the food sent home to Bosnia. Konjic explained: "A kilo of coffee was pounds 500 and it was pounds 200 for a few loaves of bread. Money was useless. We needed food."

And if his transfer from Monte Carlo to Highfield Road may have appeared anything but smooth because of hold-ups with the DoE it was plain sailing compared to the tortuous journey he made from Bosnia to Croatia. The trip had to be undertaken by car and because of road-blocks the driver chose mountain roads and trails. All went well during the two days it took until he fell asleep at the wheel, hit a bus and plunged 60ft down a ravine.

"I broke the bones in both my arms on the dashboard but I had to play in a match two weeks later because my family needed food," Konjic said. "I was crying every time I made a tackle or jumped for a header. The other players must have wondered what was wrong with me because I didn't tell them about my injuries."

Konjic's career in England has not had the best of starts. He did well in his debut, against Tottenham Hotspur, but in his second game, against Newcastle United, he was given another rough ride, this time by Alan Shearer, and was dropped for last week's match against Manchester United. But if Coventry were looking for an heroic figure to succeed Dion Dublin - whom they will face today for the first time since his departure - they could not have done better than choose Konjic. Not for nothing has he inherited the former favourite's No 9 shirt.

IT MUST have been with some inevitability that natives of Sheffield accepted the Blades' defeat in the FA Cup rematch with Arsenal in midweek. The Steel City has been coming off the worse in meetings with the Gunners for some time now. In 1993, Wednesday lost two Wembley finals against them and earlier this season the Owls were ultimately losers again in a league game against the same opposition when the dismissal of Paolo Di Canio led to their striker leaving the club.

Now Arsenal's victory over United has left Wednesday, who were due to visit Highbury on 6 March, kicking their heels on quarter-finals day.

PERHAPS SHEFFIELD intends to get its own back by moving the game's headquarters away from the capital. As the Sweeper revealed recently, many of the Football Association's most influential people - Geoff Thompson, David Davies, Howard Wilkinson and Dave Richards - are all Sheffield men, as are two of the FA's recently appointed coaches, Nigel Pearson and Nigel Spackman.

In fact, the Sheffield "Mafia" had intended that the unveiling of their new part-time, temporary England coach, Kevin Keegan, would be at Hillsborough, but it had to be called off because the deal had not been finalised. So the announcement instead was made the following day in London. The reason given for the Sheffield location was that it was halfway between Keegan's home in the north-east and his job at Fulham - never mind that he probably normally flies from one to the other.

JUDGING BY Everton's disappointing follow-up last weekend to their five- goal mauling of Middlesbrough, it is by no means guaranteed that they will now have the dishonour of finishing the season with fewer goals at home than any team ever in the top flight. With just three goals at Goodison all season they were strongly fancied, prior to the Middlesbrough goal rush, to overhaul Woolwich Arsenal's record of 11 home goals in the 1912- 13 season. They still need four from the six remaining home games to avoid a share of the record but the discovery of Francis Jeffers has given them renewed hope of doing so.

It might be a bit much though, to expect the youngster to score all four himself and thereby equal the output of another Everton player in that 1912-13 season, whose name, would you believe it, was Frank Jefferis.

FILMING IN Sheffield is all the rage since The Full Monty, but it did not go down too well recently with one land owner when the city's two Brazilian footballers, Emerson Thome, of Wednesday, and Marcelo, of United, demonstrated their skills on his property without permission. The couple were just going through their repertoire, for the benefit of BSkyB's cameras, when the land owner set his dogs on them. The Cocacabana was never like this. "There was no arguing with him," said the pair's agent. "I've never seen them move so fast. If you think they're quick on a Saturday, you should have seen them then."

Well, as they say, when you play the Brazilians you have to dog them all over the field.

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