With West Ham United's youngsters on loan in fine fettle in recent weeks, Academy of Football coach Paul Konchesky talks us through his role as Academy Loans Manager.
Based at Chadwell Heath, Konchesky works to ensure the next generation of budding young stars get valuable experience in the Football League.
As someone who came through at famous east London club Senrab, then spent time at the Academies of both West Ham and Charlton Athletic, before going on to make 347 Premier League appearances, score in the 2006 FA Cup final and play for England, the 39-year-old knows all about what it takes to get to the top.
Konch, please tell us a little bit about your role as the Loans Manager at the Academy…
Well, obviously within football you have two transfer windows and leading up to those windows I’m working mainly with the U23 boys who aren’t in and around David Moyes' plans at that moment in time.
If they’re not involved at firs-team level and they’re still hungry to go and play men’s football, then that’s something I help with.
How did that role at the Club come to fruition?
Under the old Academy Manager (Terry Westley), I used to come in and do some mentoring for the U23s at the time.
A couple of those younger players who I was mentoring then went out on loan and I began going and watching the games that they were playing in.
It just went from there and then it became: ‘Do you want to do this on a daily basis?’ From that point I took the opportunity and I’ve really enjoyed it.
How do you balance that with coaching at Chadwell Heath?
To be fair, the loan work is more important for me. Getting to leave the building on a weekly basis and going to visit players like Dapo Afolayan at Bolton and Ajibola Alese at Cambridge, watching their games and making sure they're progressing, is an important job.
I make sure our boys are alright, settled in with their squads and enjoying living away from home.
How often are you in contact with the players that are currently out on loan?
I tend to speak to the boys twice, maybe even three times a week, just to make sure primarily that they’re okay and don’t need anything.
As important as talking to the players is talking to the clubs. I want to talk to their staff and recruitment teams to make sure our players are fitting into what they want.
The human aspect is important as well. Dapo Afolayan and Dan Kemp [at Blackpool] earlier on in the season were obviously up north by themselves and that might have taken them out of their comfort zones.
How do your own experiences of being a young player on loan affect your work now?
It’s a great role for me because I went on loan when I was younger [from Charlton to Tottenham], and I probably got left a little bit. I think back then, you were just left alone rather than be properly supported.
Now I’m working as Loans Manager, it’s nice to make sure our boys still feel a big part of West Ham United whilst they’re going out and grabbing that experience.
How has the ongoing pandemic affected the work that you do and the players once they arrive at their new club?
It’s been tough for the lads because obviously you go training and then you go home, and you can’t go and mix with anybody. You’re straight back to your apartment with the four walls around you.
It’s mentally tough, but that’s why I’m there. We can talk, Facetime and I can help out in whatever way I can.
What are the key benefits from heading out on loan? How do you know a player is ready to make that next step?
I think that there are a couple of key benefits. Players have to go out and grow up. If they’re a young boy from the local area like Aji (Alese) last season, he goes to Accrington, lives on his own, learns to cook and, as an athlete, that’s such a fantastic experience.
It’s important to build yourself a CV, to try and play yourself into the first team at West Ham United, but if that doesn’t work out then you’re still able to have a career elsewhere within the game.
What does success look like in your role?
I think for me, I’m such a massive West Ham United fan that any of the boys who I can help get in and around the first team would be my goal.
I just want to give them something back that they can take with them. If it doesn’t work out at West Ham, at least it’s made them better elsewhere as a footballer and as a person.