Paul Konchesky

Paul Konchesky Exclusive: Leicester players wanted Shakespeare in charge long before Ranieri was sacked

2017-03-20
In 1997 sixteen year old Paul Konchesky became Charlton Athletic’s youngest ever debutant. Two decades on his love for the game remains undiminished, turning out for Billericay Town at an age when most of his contemporaries have hung up their boots. The intervening years saw the accomplished, no-nonsense left-back enjoy promotion with Leicester City, reach a European final with Fulham, and score a goal in an FA Cup final for his boyhood idols West Ham United.  Here the twice-capped England international discusses the major issues surrounding these former clubs starting with his take on a recent, highly-criticised sacking. 

Leicester go from shaky to ‘Shakey’

paul konchesky leicester

The dismissal of title-winning miracle-worker Claudio Ranieri last month shocked the football world and led to widespread speculation that the Leicester players themselves were responsible for the Italian’s departure. Having only recently left the King Power Stadium himself after five seasons in the east Midlands, Konchesky has little time for such conspiracy theories but certainly believes his former team-mates are far more content now under the charge of new gaffer Craig Shakespeare. 

“Nigel Pearson was manager during my time at Leicester but Shakey was the first team coach and he was massive for us. He did a lot of the work with players – the one on one stuff and patterns of play. These bunch of players have been there for a couple of years now so they know him and he knows them. He knows how to get the best out of them and maybe he’s taken it all back to basics to get the boys winning games again. It certainly seems to be working and he was the right man to steady the ship.”

“It does look like the players didn’t want Ranieri there because they’re unbeaten in four now but I know these players and they don’t have that in them. They’re good guys and I think it came from the top. The owners are ambitious guys and you can see that. After winning the league and then slipping down they couldn’t take a chance because this is where the money is. They’re business men and if that’s what was needed to stay in the Premier League then that’s how it is.”

In another surreal season for the Foxes they find themselves fighting relegation while confounding all expectations to reach the quarter finals of Europe’s most prestigious competition. Is Atletico Madrid a favourable pairing all things considered? 

“They’re in the last eight of the Champions League so there are no easy draws. Even so the four big hitters have all drawn each other so this is a fantastic tie for them and a great opportunity. If they can go to Atletico and get a good result out there there’s no reason why we can’t see a repeat of Sevilla at home last week.”

Bet on Atlético Madrid vs Leicester City in Champions League

Home not so sweet home for the Hammers

Though Leicester’s astonishing rollercoaster ride is unique there are certain clubs who can empathise with seeing a successful season quickly turn sour. Last year West Ham United were blowing bubbles, reaching the giddy heights of seventh in the Premier League and delighting neutrals with their stylish football. An emotional farewell to their beloved Boleyn Ground was supposed to beckon in an exciting new era under the leadership of highly prized boss Slaven Bilic. Instead the colossal London Stadium has only hindered their progress while Bilic has become a man under fire. 

“I’m a West Ham fan and I can see why the owners thought the move was a good thing. If you want to compete with the big clubs you need a big stadium but possibly this was too big of a jump. It’s taking time for the players to get used to and with the atmosphere, that has taken its toll this year.”

As for their former home Konchesky has nothing but fond memories.

“I loved it. You got goose-bumps playing at the Boleyn when that crowd were as vocal as they can be – especially in the derby games. It must have been so intimidating for the opponents and it was always a massive boost hearing all the songs.”

The Hammers’ poor form has seen their Croatian coach’s standing plummet in recent weeks with calls for his head from some sections of the cavernous ground. Konchesky however advises caution and patience. 

“I’d stick by Bilic. For me he is the best man for West Ham. Yes he has played players out of position and surely there must be enough players in that squad who can fill them but maybe he doesn’t trust them or they’re not good enough? So they need to rebuild the team but stick by him because he’s got good people around him. Get this season out of the way and if they can finish in the top half that would be a success for now.”

So badly have West Ham struggled since August that the condemnation hasn’t been solely reserved for the touchline with even home-grown favourite Mark Noble enduring jeers of disapproval. The 35 year old left-back evidently regards this as misplaced ire and wholly undeserved.

“The criticism of Noble is harsh but all football fans are fickle. Last year everyone was praising him: he was one of the best Premier League midfielders and should have played for England. This year he hasn’t fulfilled that potential but then again neither have the club. But he’s the captain so he’s the one getting criticised. He’s been a great servant for the club so it’s harsh that people don’t want him in the team.”

Fulham on the promotion charge

The mood lightens when the attention turns twelve miles west of the capital to a Fulham side knocking on the play-offs door. Konchesky played for several seasons at Craven Cottage – all in the top flight – and is clearly thrilled to witness their resurgence under Serbian boss Slavisa Jokanovic. Is an imminent return to the big time possible for this young, entertaining team?

“They’re the form side of the Championship so they’ve got a great chance of going up. They’re winning games which leads to confidence and with that confidence you feel unbeatable every time. If they can keep this run going, and maintain their form, you’ll soon see teams slipping up as it’s getting around to squeaky bum time. Then it will go right down to the wire.”

While the title scrap between Newcastle and Brighton is grabbing most of the headlines the player everybody is talking about in the Championship is Fulham’s phenomenally gifted wonder-kid Ryan Sessegnon who has played a huge part in his club’s promotion campaign despite his tender years. Having started out his career at the same age and in the same position as the much sought-after teen Konchesky has some timely words of wisdom in light of serious links to Liverpool and Chelsea this past week alone.  

“Obviously as an older player now I always like to see the younger players stay at the club they’re getting a chance with and make a name for themselves. He’s certainly doing that. Another big year with Fulham and you just don’t know what’s around the corner but if Fulham go up to the Premier League then why would he have to leave?”