Konchesky joins forces again with the wily old fox Sven
Eriksson has signed an entire defensive unit to safeguard Leicester City's Premier League ambitions and one of his old England favourites fits the bill perfectly
Sunday 31 July 2011
If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity in football. Paul Konchesky is now gearing up to help Sven Goran Eriksson's free-spending Leicester City achieve promotion from the Championship, a task he could never have imagined undertaking 12 months ago as he strove to make Liverpool's left-back slot his own after a £3.5 million move from Fulham.
Konchesky, 30, was discarded in January after Kenny Dalglish's return to Anfield, though not before his mother had rounded on his Scouse critics on Facebook. "Everyone's mum is the same," he says in a break between sessions at Leicester's fast-expanding training complex. "But I've got nothing bad to say about Liverpool. That's in the past and I'm looking to the future."
In which case Konchesky, who won his two international caps during Eriksson's tenure with England, came to the right place when he signed this month for a reputed £1.5m. For if incoming transfers are a measure of ambition and vision, there can be no club in the Football League with as much to look forward to as Leicester.
Bankrolled by Vichai Raksriaksorn and his son Top, whose Thailand-based duty-free retail business bought the club from Milan Mandaric last August, Eriksson has lavished £10m on new players (not to mention the wages to attract Premier League players) since last season's 10th-placed finish. The fact that five of his nine close-season recruits are defenders – with another a goalkeeper – points to where the weakness lay during his first eight months at what is now the King Power Stadium.
Konchesky believes that Leicester's strategy, based on the most successful Premier League clubs, is to have two players for each position, and Michael Ball, who played in Eriksson's first match as England manager in 2001, will challenge for his place if his trial period is successful. Leicester's pre-season adventures saw them use completely different sides in either half of certain games.
Having established competition within the ranks, Eriksson sought a context which would prepare theFoxes for the 46-match slog that is the Championship campaign. Not for Leicester a few low-key friendlies with Irish or non-League opposition. First they travelled to Stockholm, where, says Konchesky, Eriksson was welcomed on his homecoming like "Mr Sweden", and the La Liga team Real Mallorca were held 1-1 in between victories over Swedish opposition.
Then it was on to Austria, where Eriksson once took Lazio to prepare for what proved a Serie A title-winningseason. "The games there were tough," admits Konchesky. "We drew 0-0 with Bursaspor [the Turkish team who are in the Europa League this season] and lost only 1-0 to Valencia."
Leicester's arduous schedule, topped off with a sold-out visit from Real Madrid yesterday, provoked scepticism from supporters who feared that a team soon to be scuffling for points with Peterborough, Doncaster and Millwall might beover-reaching themselves.
"From my experience," argues Konchesky, "the tougher the better. A tour is a good time to come to a new club. You do your training work in the daytime but instead of everyone going back to their own homes, you're stuck together in an unfamiliar country. You get to know your team-mates as people and as players."
It was also an opportunity to reacquaint himself with Eriksson, 63, who rated him as a rival to Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge during Konchesky's spells with Charlton and West Ham, giving him 45 minutes against Australia and Argentina respectively. "Him being at Leicester definitely played a part in my choice," he says. "He's got great pedigree and I wanted to work with him again."
The old fox's charisma came to the fore in his home country, where, Konchesky recalls, they "made a fuss of him everywhere we went". But Eriksson is no mere figurehead. "He's out on the training field every day. He has a very clear idea of what he wants and gets his points across.
"Once he's done that, he leaves it to the coaches. It's always difficult when you bring in almost a complete team of new players, but the manager has done it in such a way that we've got to know one another already. We're experienced enough to know what we have to do, and if we stick together I think we'll be fine."
What Leicester have to do, he accepts, is to secure promotion to the Premier League, where they last played in 2003-04, since when they endured a season in the third tier for the only time in their history. "It'll be a disappointment if we don't make the play-offs at least. Everything I've seen in my three weeks here – the stadium, the facilities and the backing from the owners – suggests the club are big enough to get up there."
The bookies clearly concur, listing Leicester alongside another of his former clubs, West Ham, as favourites. "You've got to fancy West Ham," says the Barking-born defender, who idolised Julian Dicks on the terraces. "They got relegated but they have a new manager and, so far, they've kept some of their big players." Nottingham Forest, to whom Liverpool loaned him, could also be a threat under Eriksson's former England No 2 and successor, Steve McClaren, who Konchesky believes has inherited several "very good young players".
He adds: "There will be 10 or 12 clubs hoping they can make it this time, and we're one of them. Because of the money we've spent, everyone will look at us and say, 'They're the ones to beat'. But if you want to be in the Premier League, you've got to handle those pressures."
Leicester is more: Sven's spending spree
Lee Peltier (right-back, 24): Bought from Huddersfield for £1m-plus. One Champions' League appearance for Liverpool in 2006.
Neil Danns (midfielder, 28): Spurned Wolves, Celtic and Rangers to join Leicester on a free transfer after his Crystal Palace contract expired.
Kasper Schmeichel (goalkeeper, 24): Surprisingly sold by Leeds for £1.5m. Served Eriksson at Manchester City and Notts County.
Sean St Ledger (centre-back, 26): Republic of Ireland international snapped up for £1.2m after suffering relegation with Preston.
David Nugent (striker, 26): One substitute outing, one goal, for England, in 2007. Free agent after the end of his Portsmouth deal.
Matt Mills (centre-back, 25): Cost £4.5m from Reading. Born in Leicester, he was a reserve at Manchester City under Eriksson.
Paul Konchesky (left-back, 30): Two England caps and Premier League experience with five clubs. £1.5m refugee from Liverpool.
John Pantsil (right-back/midfielder, 30): Reached the World Cup quarter-finals with Ghana last year. Free transferfrom Fulham.
Michael Johnson (midfielder, 23): Flourished under Eriksson at Eastlands. Badly injured in 2009, now on a season-long loan.
All transfer fees officially announced as 'undisclosed'. Figures given are as reported in media
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