Paul Konchesky will be in Hamburg by the time Fabio Capello announces his England World Cup finals squad this afternoon and even as he prepares for the biggest match of his life there will be a wistfulness about the Fulham defender that his name is not on the list.
Konchesky, 29 on Saturday, has been a key part of Fulham's remarkable drive to the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid tomorrow, although he tends to miss out when the garlands are handed out for his team. He is the old-fashioned defender with a Polish surname inherited from his great-grandfather, a crew-cut and an east London childhood spent playing alongside the best English footballers of his generation.
Konchesky has two England caps to his name, the first of them on a night in February 2003 against Australia when another young English footballer was making his senior debut – that was Wayne Rooney. The last of them in November 2005 when he came on for the second half in the friendly against Argentina in Geneva that England won with two late Michael Owen goals.
It has crossed Konchesky's mind that Fulham's season might have put him in line for a call-up under Capello, but he got injured around the time of the Egypt friendly in March when, with Ashley Cole injured and Wayne Bridge abruptly retired, there was the possibility of a breakthrough. "You have it in the back of your mind having played twice before," he says. "If I can do well here you never know if another time will come. Fingers crossed it will.
"For whoever plays for their country it is a great honour and you grow up wanting to do it. I feel I am lucky I have done it, it might be only twice but I have done it. I would like to do it again many more times. My debut was at West Ham and it meant more because I had grown up as a West Ham fan and to go back there to play for my country was a great honour.
"Mr Capello picks who he thinks is capable of doing the job and if it is not me then so be it. I would say that [if you are at a smaller club it is more difficult] but we have just got into the Europa League final so if that doesn't push you forward then I don't really know what will. If we can go and win it you never know."
The road to tomorrow's final in Hamburg has seen Fulham beat Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg among others and they take a great deal of pleasure in having proved some of these famous football clubs wrong. Juventus won 3-1 in the first leg in Turin and, Konchesky says, the Italian team thought they were home and dry.
"Juventus are a big club and they might have taken us quite lightly because they were 3-1 up," Konchesky says. "They thought the game was done and dusted and that just proves what we have got in this team. We don't give in. We work hard and at home especially we can grind out results.
"When they came to the Cottage I think they thought once they had scored it was finished. Every single player lifted his game and didn't want to get beat.
"It starts with hard work on the training ground. What we do in training you can see on the pitch. We work hard as a team on our shape and everyone knows what they are doing. We have 20 good first team players, whoever plays. And everyone knows what is expected of them because it is drilled into them week in, week out.
"Since he [manager Roy Hodgson] has been here I have played virtually every game. He has belief in me and I have belief in him. The stuff he does on the training ground has helped me. He is good to learn from. He has a great work ethic on the pitch and drills into every single player what we need to do and how we need to do it. We work hard at it every day – attacking and defending. It may be the same old thing but it has worked for us."
Hodgson behaves around the players, Konchesky says, much as he conducts himself in his interviews – measured and thoughtful. "Maybe now and again he loses his temper but he is not one for throwing cups and bottles and things like that," Konchesky says. "He gets his point across and you respect him for that. Obviously it has worked."
How Fulham react to this season's success will be the big test beyond tomorrow's final and with seven senior players out of contract at the end of next season – Konchesky is among them – they have some big decisions to make about whether they make wholesale changes to their squad.
There are also no guarantees that Hodgson will stay, although much depends on whether Rafael Benitez remains at Liverpool. Fulham have always struggled to hang on to players and managers when the big clubs come knocking. "I would like to think [Hodgson will stay]," says Konchesky, "but he has got ambitions and if someone bigger comes in then that's football. He is like a player, he wants to do bigger things and sometimes you have to take opportunities."
Tomorrow's final is not the first that Konchesky has played in; he scored for West Ham against Liverpool in the 2006 FA Cup final. He was Charlton Athletic's youngest player when he made his debut for them in 1997 and has played at Tottenham (on loan), West Ham and now Fulham. Along the way he has twice fallen out with Alan Curbishley, although Konchesky says that the pair have since made up.
He is another graduate of the famous Senrab boys club in Wanstead from which potentially four former players will represent England at the World Cup this summer. Konchesky played in the same Senrab team as John Terry, Ledley King and Bobby Zamora while Jermain Defoe was in a younger age group. Senrab, which also numbers Sol Campbell, Ray Wilkins and Lee Bowyer among its alumni, has turned out England internationals at a prolific rate.
"I was 13 and I played with Bobby, John Terry, and Ledley," Konchesky says. "You knew then that they had got something special. I grew up in Dagenham and Senrab was in Wanstead. At that point in our lives it was a team that all the top players went to. When you are growing up you look at the Sunday league teams and think: 'They're a good team, I would like to play for them.' It's a case of making a phone call."
The England team has proved a little harder to access for Konchesky but he and Zamora will be among the only English footballers playing in a European final this summer. "We are the English club and we have proved a lot of people wrong," he says. "We weren't expected to get this far, especially when we played the likes of Juventus, Hamburg and teams like that. We have proved people wrong once and we want to do that again."
Paul Konchesky: Age 28
Joined Fulham in July 2007 from West Ham for £3.25m. Has started all of his 117 games for the west Londoners.
Konchesky has won two caps for England, but has not featured for the national team since November 2005, when he played in the 3-2 victory over Argentina.Reuse content