Belfast Telegraph

Paul Konchesky is the victim of Anfield's burning desire to erase the memory of Roy Hodgson

As Liverpool ride the wave of Dalglish euphoria, what will the journey into training be like for Paul Konchesky today?

That is an opening sentence destined to lose most Liverpool fans before we've even begun but it's a reasonable one, given that Konchesky, a decent Premier League defender and a decent human being, for what that's worth, has suffered more indignity than any sportsman ought in the course of the past six months.

When Roy Hodgson brought him to Anfield from Fulham last August, Konchesky was a player of commendable Premier League standing. Not the best Fulham player to feature in the club's Europa League run last season; not even almost the best. His call-up to the England side which played Australia in February 2003 was probably as much of a surprise to himself as to anyone and was overshadowed, in any case, by the senior international debut of one W Rooney. But at £3.5m Konchesky was a perfectly suitable buy for Liverpool, a club who in their wisdom had loaned their only serviceable left-back (Emiliano Insua) to Galatasaray, released a semi-serviceable one (Fabio Aurelio) on the basis that he has all the unbreakability of a pane of glass and had no other left-back with whom to head into the new season.

But someone decided Konchesky wasn't "a Liverpool player". He struggled to perform. (Ask Nemanja Vidic or Patrice Evra how that can happen to a defender for all of six months at a new club.) His manager became persona non grata at Anfield and Konchesky, with his east London accent, became a totem of an alien, unhappy era.

That was before his own mother said some very unflattering things about Liverpool people. Konchesky was aghast about that; sorry, embarrassed, humiliated. He considered issuing a statement to say as much but nobody really wanted to know his side of the story.

A perfect storm was blowing against Konchesky when Kenny Dalglish walked in as manager – there were cheers when Konchesky was substituted in Hodgson's penultimate home match – and it is Liverpool's desire to assuage the fans, more than Konchesky's ability, which seems to have contributed to his ostracism since. He felt his first conversation with Dalglish had gone well but was aghast to find the new manager would rather play Glen Johnson on the "wrong" side of defence than pick him there, in his natural left-back domain. He was not even in the squad against Everton, nor at Wolves on Saturday.

He might reasonably argue that he is some distance behind Martin Skrtel (whose selection at Molineux maintained his status as Liverpool's only ever-present outfield player in the league this season) on the list of most undependable defenders. So now he is trapped. Uefa rules prevent a player turning out for three clubs in one season so unless Konchesky gets dispensation – that's possible, as he appeared only once for Fulham before heading north for this nightmare – life will get worse before it gets better. He is the victim of a grand design beyond his own control: to erase the memory of Roy Hodgson. It is a design which will dispense with rationale if Liverpool move this week for Aston Villa's left-back Stephen Warnock, as they almost certainly will.

Warnock is certainly no better than Konchesky and was so poor for Aston Villa against Manchester City that Gérard Houllier left him out of his next squad. He is not the only player being pursued by a club whom we were told when their new owners arrived would seek value in the transfer market – using the science known as sabermetrics.

"Murder" was the word Birmingham manager Alex McLeish chose on Saturday to describe shopping for strikers in January. "Madness" was Sir Alex Ferguson's description of the value attached to Villa spending £24m on Darren Bent. Yet Liverpool looked at Bent too, according to the new director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, and they also seem ready to pay £15m for Ajax's Luis Suarez, whose record against good Dutch defences is incomparably poorer than against bad ones and whose prime proof of quality came at the last World Cup.

Overpaying for players who have just shone at a tournament is what Moneyball, the bible of sabermetrics, describes as "a tendency to be over influenced by a guy's most recent performance: what he did last was not necessarily what he would do next". And then there is Charlie Adam of Blackpool – a good midfielder with pace who has been attracting Aston Villa, Blackburn and Sunderland; the kind of clubs Liverpool have no ambition to emulate. A Liverpool player? No.

It is unclear whether these three names have been scribbled in Dalglish's book or Comolli's but, either way, the pursuit of them is typical of that age-old trend in football of a new manager putting his mark on his new team and satisfying fans by buying in new players and clearing out the old. Saturday's performance at Wolves, with that sublime 30-pass move for the third goal, suggested that, in the short term, this club simply needs a release from Hodgson's defensive strictures, not a £25m splurge of cash. Raul Meireles' display told us that Hodgson knew a good midfielder when he saw one, after all.

A question for this final week of the transfer window is whether Liverpool can look beyond the popular revolt which played such a significant part in seeing Hodgson through the door and acknowledge that he has equipped them well enough for a season in which the only achievements which ever really counted – the removal of two dreadful owners and discovery of an enlightened new one – have already been accomplished.

Despite his contribution, Hodgson left Liverpool a more sad and broken man than many realise. Konchesky will probably pull away down the M62 a similar wreck, but it is not too late for salvation.

Belfast Telegraph


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