December 15th: Unfortunately, Paul Koncheskey played 15 league games for Liverpool. BrenzieAZ takes a look at this horrible period at the club in this TBT Advent Calendar article.
“I can say that [leaving Fulham for Liverpool was a mistake] now, yes, of course”, said Paul Konchesky to The Independent when he was interviewed in late 2011. “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… 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.”
As statements from poorly-regarded ex-players go, it’s very benign – disarming, even. But then, Paul Konchesky isn’t really your average black sheep.
Konchesky’s status as a persona non grata around these parts is, perhaps, an unfortunate one from his perspective. He’s not an El Hadji Diouf, with a huge ego and a record of being far more trouble than he’s worth. Nor is he a Michael Owen, running down his contract and leaving for a fraction of his value whilst not showing the slightest understanding of why fans are upset with him.
Konchesky was merely a player that wasn’t remotely good enough for Liverpool, signed by a manager that wasn’t remotely good enough for Liverpool, who was in turn put in place by directors and owners who weren’t remotely good enough for Liverpool.
He arrived at the club the way most players tend to in this age of soundbite-addled media saturation of the sport; proclaiming that he was at a club that could match his ambition and that he was looking forward to challenging for trophies. He also came with a ringing endorsement from former Reds midfielder Jamie Redknapp.
“Liverpool fans, who may have been looking for big money signings, might not appreciate the quality of Paul Konchesky”, parped Redknapp at the time. “I played with Paul at Spurs and he’s a superb one-on-one defender, with quick feet and who loves the showdown between full-back and winger. It’s hard to find good left backs. He’s one of them”, he added, apparently with sincerity.
However, the laser-like nature of footballing reality is no respecter of trite, misty-eyed bollocks, and it will invariably cut away all bullshit in short order, until all that is left is the cold, hard truth. Thus, it didn’t take long for his performances to blow away any faint, misguided hopes that Konchesky was a player remotely good enough for a club like Liverpool.
Below par at defending and an absolute non-entity in attack, Konchesky struggled from the off, and often wore the confused, hurt expression of a dog being scolded for knocking over the Christmas tree; aware from the groans of those around him that he had done something wrong, but not quite sure exactly what it was.
To put it bluntly, during a shit period where Liverpool were playing shit football under a shit manager, under the shadow of two shit owners with a shit working relationship, Konchesky still stood out as particularly shit. His performances brought ignominious moments such as his apology for his performance away at Spurs, as well as his substitution being cheered during a defeat against Wolves at Anfield, the nadir of Roy Hodgson’s reign.
He also wasn’t helped by the publicity generated by a woefully ill-judged attack on Liverpool fans by his mother on Facebook – although it must be said that he acted with quiet dignity when caught in the crossfire.
Konchesky’s troubled time at Liverpool came to an end with the return to the club of Kenny Dalglish, hired to steady a ship that had lurched so dangerously off course under Hodgson that Liverpool fans, whether they cared to admit it or not, were casting nervous glances towards the not-too distant icebergs of the relegation zone.
Informed that he no longer had a future at the club, Konchesky was farmed out on loan in January 2011 to Nottingham Forest in the Championship – the league in which, tellingly, he has plied his trade ever since leaving Liverpool, joining Leicester on a permanent basis after his loan at Forest ended that summer.
Whilst there is no doubt that Konchesky was an awful player for Liverpool, an outsider might ask why the mention of his name tends to inspire a range of different reactions from Liverpool fans, none of them positive. After all, he was only at the club for half a season, he wasn’t a trouble-maker and he wasn’t a player who flopped after being signed for a record fee.
The answer is that the signing of Konchesky, along with his subsequent performances, must be viewed through the lens of the club’s situation as a whole at that time.
Roy Hodsgon had just come in as manager after the contentious sacking of Rafa Benitez, and he had immediately set about makingLiverpool one of the most negative teams in the league. Expectations were driven down further with every press conference as Hodgson, ably assisted by an overwhelmingly complicit press pack, toed the narrative that Liverpool were now a mid-table club, and that he should be absolved of any blame for the disastrous form and performances that were being served up.
Paul Konchesky’s status as a lightning rod for our fans’ venom is due the fact that he was, essentially, Hodgson’s reign in a microcosm. A 29 year old full-back of Premier League relegation zone standard at best and with no chance of improvement, he was signed from Fulham on a 4 (FOUR) year deal. Liverpool gave Fulham an undisclosed amount of cash, as well as two of our young prospects, Lauri Dalla Valle and Alexander Kacaniklic (unlike Konchesky, you will see Kacaniklic turning out in the Premier League quite often). Promising youth players sacrificed for a crap full-back approaching 30 – before a ball had even been kicked, the transfer absolutely reeked of Roy Hodgson.
On the pitch, Konchesky was the archetypal Hodgson player. Hopeless going forward and poor at defending (especially considering the value his manager placed on solidity and shape at the cost of any sort of attacking play from full-backs), the only really discernible characteristic to his game was that he didn’t have any characteristics. Well, save for an overwhelming level of mediocrity that flooded the senses and left you dizzy.
If you were asked to describe Paul Konchesky’s playing style, you’d be at a loss. Does he bomb forward at pace? Nope. Can he get involved in intricate build-up play? Nope. Can he cross a ball? Nope. Well then at least he must be really good defensively? Nope. Your only real reply would be that he’s just a pure fucking Roy Hodgson player. Mediocrity dressed up as solidity; like Poulsen, he seemed to get into the team purely by dint of the fact that Hodgson knew he wouldn’t try anything creative.
Konchesky, despite spending less than half a year at the club, inspires a visceral, seething reaction from Liverpool fans. Not because he was a disruptive influence or an arrogant turbo-minge, but because of what he stood for. He was a tangible demonstration, running around on the football pitch before your very eyes, of what Roy Hodgson was doing to the club.
A Hodgson-type player, signed by Hodgson from Hodgson’s old team to play Hodgeball in Hodgson’s new team, he became an obvious focal point of fury from Liverpool fans – a group of fans who could see that Hodgson was dragging us through a mile of shit, but were being told otherwise by virtually everyone else in the footballing world.
To be honest, there’s not really a whole lot that Konchesky could have done to avoid becoming such a figure of ridicule; as he says himself, nobody in his position would turn Liverpool down. His only crime was that he wasn’t good enough. But in joining the club, he unwittingly became a poster boy for what an absolute shithouse his manager was. “Is Roy Hodgson really that bad?”, you’d be asked. “You tell me, mate – Paul fucking Konchesky is starting at left back today against United at Old Trafford”, you’d answer.
Shit players have played for Liverpool in the past, and shit players will play for Liverpool in the future, too. Konchesky, however, was the John McClane of shit Liverpool players, being dragged to the party just as it was all going tits up. They used to say that Roy Keane was the on-pitch embodiment of Alex Ferguson’s drive and will to win. Well, unfortunately for Konchesky, he became the on-pitch embodiment of Roy Hodgson’s negative, cack-handed fuck-wittery, and his reputation will bear that cross for years to come.