x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Konchesky is making the Liverpool grade

The left-back, an alumnus of England's most productive junior club, steps up to the mark at Anfield, says Ian Hawkey.

Paul Konchesky, left, has made the left-back position his own since his summer transfer to Liverpool from Fulham.
Paul Konchesky, left, has made the left-back position his own since his summer transfer to Liverpool from Fulham.

In the east end of London, close to the north bank of the Thames and just before the river loops around the Isle of Dogs, there is a road called Senrab Street.

It is typical of the district of Stepney, two-storey terraced houses along each pavement. This road has acquired a mystique. Its unusual name is said to come from inverting the letters which spell "Barnes", because there was already a Barnes Street barely 200 metres away.

But largely, Senrab Street has become famous because of the junior football club formed there and named after it. In English football there are few local clubs as productive in making future professionals as Senrab.

Here is a list of some of the current players who passed through Senrab's ranks as they grew up in east London or neighbouring Essex: John Terry, of Chelsea; Ledley King and Jermain Defoe of Tottenham Hotspur; Sol Campbell, of Newcastle United; Bobby Zamora of Fulham; Lee Bowyer of Birmingham City and Jlloyd Samuel of Bolton Wanderers.

To that you can add Ray Wilkins, a former England captain of the 1980s, Muzzy Izzet, the former Turkey midfielder, and Chris Hughton, the ex-Republic of Ireland full-back and now the Newcastle manager. And to complete an international XI there is Paul Konchesky, the Liverpool and England left-back.

As a boy at Senrab, Konchesky, now 29, was a winger, his speed and accurate left foot put to use serving, among others, Zamora, the centre-forward with whom Konchesky would be reunited at Fulham.

He grew up close to Terry and they remain good friends. "It was a tremendous age group," said Gary Northover, who coached Konchesky and his Senrab contemporaries as boys. "We had a great set of young players coming through. They're from the old-fashioned system, if you like: you played for a good Sunday club, then you played for your district, then your county.

"What was also strange is that none of these boys got to play for England as 16-year-olds, and none went to the FA's Lilleshall academy."

Konchesky, who has a strong East End accent, maintained his London roots through most of his career, first with Charlton Athletic, briefly with Spurs, then with West Ham United and Fulham. In August, he moved north, to join what he described to reporters as "the biggest and best club" of his career.

He had become a priority target for Roy Hodgson, the new Liverpool manager, and the fact Hodgson had recruited Konchesky from his old club, Fulham, inevitably put the new signing under scrutiny.

Konchesky had been one of half a dozen footballers whose reputations at Fulham had soared as Hodgson guided a small, modest club to the final of last season's Europa League.

Sceptics at Anfield were curious about whether Hodgson saw Konchesky as a footballer capable of rising still further in more elevated company, or whether he simply wanted to bring in an ally.

So far, the jury on Merseyside is out. Konchesky's strengths have always been as an attacking full-back. He has industry, pace and a fine cross. At a Liverpool side who lurched through various problems on and off the pitch for the first two months of this season, Konchesky's defensive rigour has been examined. He is not, it is fair to report, the most two-footed of full-backs, and while his ferocity in the tackle is usually an asset, he concedes his share of free-kicks.

Hamstring problems also affected his form, but his fitness has improved in tandem with Liverpool's results. After struggling to stay the full 90 minutes until late October, he completed all four of Liverpool's successive wins going into last night's fixture at Wigan Athletic.

Should he go on to achieve form as consistent as with Fulham, Konchesky would be entitled to hope for a possible England recall.

He will be only 31 for the Euro 2012 finals. His previous caps came to him some time ago, in 2003 and 2005, but left-back is not a position where there is an abundance of cover for Ashley Cole, the stand-out English full-back of his generation.

Konchesky has admitted to feeling "gutted" that he has not added to his pair of caps but acknowledges Cole was always likely to be an impediment. Indeed, Konchesky could have foreseen that many years ago. In East End schoolboy football, Senrab matches against a club called Puma were usually tough ones, because Puma had in their line-up a young flier, then playing as striker. He was Ashley Cole.