Konchesky: I can say now that Liverpool was a mistake
Paul Konchesky's move to Anfield turned sour after just four months. He tells Ian Herbert about the lows and starting again at Leicester
Not every left-back has been destroyed by Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, the teenager of the moment, in the past few weeks.
Paul Konchesky is too modest – painfully modest, in fact – to discuss the assets which enabled him to handle the Ivorian who made Manchester United's Fabio da Silva look a very ordinary footballer three days ago, though his basic summation of events when Palace visited Leicester City says enough. "Yes I played against him," Konchesky says of Zaha. "We won 3-0."
Konchesky did not sit down to watch the Old Trafford Carling Cup quarter-final on Wednesday night and can be forgiven an aversion to the memory of those clubs who occupy the terrain to which his new club now aspire. Monday night brings together two of his former sides – Fulham and Liverpool – though that may be another one he is inclined to avoid. It is a year since Konchesky found himself stumbling through a personal nightmare at Anfield – a symbol, as the club's fans viewed it, of what Roy Hodgson, who brought him along from Fulham, was turning the club into. It was 12 months ago that he apologised for his performance after Aaron Lennon had raced around him to put a last-minute winner past Pepe Reina at White Hart Lane. A month later, ironic cheers greeted his substitution in the defeat at home to Wolves which effectively sealed Hodgson's fate.
This was, he reflects now, one of his hardest times in football. "One of the toughest, obviously," he says. "I went to Liverpool in the summer and when you move teams you think it's going to be a big thing for you really. It obviously didn't work out for different reasons."
A sense of regret, then, at leaving the stability of Fulham, a club still basking in the euphoria of a thrilling Europa League Cup final against Atletico Madrid at the time? "I can say that now, yes, of course," he declares. Neither does he challenge the assertion that he suffered from guilt by association with Hodgson, an individual Anfield never felt was in the "Liverpool manager" bracket. "Yes it does really [seem fair to say that]," he says. "But at the time I think anyone would have turned their head to go to join Liverpool, who are one of the best teams in the world. Their story shows that and it wasn't to be and all I can say is thanks for the opportunity and I wish them the best and that's it, really. Obviously, it was tough but I have got people around who I need. Football ain't the be all and end all at the end of the day. I've got family that take things off my mind. I enjoy my time with the kids. I go to work [just] to work and the time when I'm at home I spend it with my kids and don't let football get in the way."
This takes the conversation on those five turbulent months, of which his mother rounding on his Liverpudlian critics on Facebook hastened the end, as far as he is prepared to go with it. It is clearly a raw subject, even though he says "it was a long time ago now", though that has not stopped him living high-pressure football in the raw, one division down.
It was Sven Goran Eriksson, the man to whom he owes his two full England caps, who persuaded Konchesky that the project under way at Leicester – bankrolled by Vichai Raksriaksorn and his son Top, whose Thailand-based duty-free retail business bought the club from Milan Mandaric – was worth nailing his colours to this summer, after his loan spell at Nottingham Forest ended and he found himself back on Liverpool's books. Leicester's spending had made them the big pre-season Championship story and, in a sense, there was even more pressure there than you find at Craven Cottage in the pre-season. "Maybe [there was less pressure at Fulham.] Obviously they are used to being in the Premiership," he says. "This club wants to be in the Premiership and have done everything about trying to get there. It's a big year, really, for the club. The outside people put a lot of pressure on it."
Three months passed before Eriksson, like his old friend Hodgson at Anfield, became an illustration of football's buffeting fortunes, the view inside football being that he was sacked at least a month before he should have been. "He was instrumental in me coming to Leicester and seeing what the club wanted me to do," Konchesky says of him. "Unfortunately he is not here now but that's life in football. Managers and players come and go. We've got another man now and he is a good man and hopefully we can push forward with him."
The effect of Nigel Pearson's return to Leicester has certainly been fairly instantaneous. While Eriksson's training regime had more in common with Hodgson – a major influence on the Swede from the 1970s and 80s when Bob Houghton and then Hodgson took Malmo to great heights – there is greater intensity with Pearson. "Training has been quicker. All different aspects [have been different] really," Konchesky says. "It's just been more up tempo and you know you've put in a good session when you've done a day's training."
The early results of Pearson's second spell speak for themselves. Leicester are undefeated in his first three games and have conceded one goal under him in the process of heading into the top six. Eight clean sheets in the campaign underline the solidity to which 30-year-old Konchesky has contributed, incidentally. "This manager has played in these leagues and he knows what it's about," he reflects. "I think he has trained us a lot different though I don't think it matters what training you do. It's about what happens when you go out on that pitch."
Pearson has also taken the club back to where he always felt it should be, recalling midfielders from his first time as manager at the expense of Michael Johnson and Gelson Fernandes, Eriksson buys. Suddenly, the talk around the King Power Stadium is of play-offs and promotion, raising the prospect of Konchesky being back at the level where he started last season. Recent football history provides evidence that east Londoners are good at proving the doubters wrong when the big move they have waited for turns sour. Bobby Zamora – who, like Konchesky, learned his football on the Wanstead Flats with the legendary Senrab club – has put the consequences of his big-money move to Tottenham Hotspur behind him at Fulham. Scott Parker, with whom Konchesky learned his craft at Alan Curbishley's Charlton Athletic, has been reborn; the memory of the move to Chelsea long since receded.
It is Konchesky's way to seek success quietly in football. His call-up to Eriksson's England side which played Australia in February 2003 was probably as much of a surprise to himself as to anyone else and was overshadowed by the senior debut of a striker called Rooney. The defender didn't take the plaudits from Fulham's Europa League run, though he was one of Hodgson's most important players.
But that doesn't stop him having big ambitions as he continues to rebuild from the troubles of a difficult 12 months. "I've got a few good memories," Konchesky reflects, preparing for today's cauldron at Hull City – the club Pearson left to reassume control in the east Midlands. "There are two England caps, a Uefa Cup final. But I want more good memories. I want to get promoted with Leicester. That's my next aim and hopefully that will be on my CV as well. I think you can see with everything going on at the club here at the minute that we can achieve that."
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