Paul Konchesky has had a fair wait to lead West Ham out for the first time as manager. It was all the way back in May that the former England defender was announced as Olli Harder’s successor and more than four months will have passed by the time the Hammers return to Women’s Super League (WSL) action with a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge to face defending champions Chelsea on Sunday lunchtime.
“It has been a long pre-season,” Konchesky says, on the eve of the new campaign. West Ham sent just two players to this summer’s European Championship and while new signings have arrived since and others have been in international action this month, some of Konchesky’s squad have not played competitively since the final day defeat to Arsenal on May 8.
“We’ve had a lot of changes here so it’s been good to all be here at the same time but it’s been a long wait,” he says. “Even this week has been weird because we’ve had internationals away so we’re getting ready for the season without some players who will be available at the weekend.”
Konchesky began coaching at West Ham’s academy in 2017 while doing his badges, but was asked for help in shoring up Harder’s defence during the New Zealander’s first season in charge and subsequently offered the assistant manager’s post for the 2021/22 campaign after the Hammers avoided relegation.
If the first day of term in the top job seems to have taken an age to arrive, then it is at odds with the fact that since making the switch from boys’ academy to the women’s senior game the 41-year-old has, by his own admission, spent much of the past 18 months going “back to school”.
“The two or three months I had previously helped me learn what the women’s side was about,” Konchesky says. “When I went to assistant manager, I knew what I was coming into. It ain’t much different - they want to play football, they want to learn. It’s more interesting because they want to interact with you all the time, they want to know anything and everything.”
Still, coming from a career spent in men’s football, there were new players, teams and coaches to quickly become familiar with, not simply by means of games through the course of last season but by dedication to extra homework, too.
“You go back to studying because you’re only going to get better if you know what the opposition are about,” he says. “You get out what you put in. If I don’t know about this team then I’ve got no chance at the weekend.”
Konchesky’s path remains, for now, a relatively a rare one. Of the 12 current WSL managers, only he and Manchester City’s Gareth Taylor come from men’s playing careers of note - but the suspicion is it will become less so, as the appeal of the women’s game as a genuine alternative for young male coaches grows and opportunities to move between the codes become more common.
There is limited daily overlap between West Ham’s men’s and women’s teams, with the latter training at the club’s Chadwell Heath base alongside the academy, while the men are at Rush Green. That seems a shame, given the way Declan Rice was at the forefront of a growing bond between England’s men and women during their shared time at St. George’s Park this summer, while Konchesky says he has had no contact with David Moyes, though he insists that “if I feel like I had to, then there’ll be an opportunity for me to go and speak to him”.
Konchesky’s long-term ambition is not all that different from Moyes’ as he seeks to crack an established and growing WSL elite, though that looks a similarly tough task for a side who finished an impressive sixth last term but fear the gap to the country’s five biggest clubs (Liverpool have only just been promoted from the Championship) could be widening.
The contrast will perhaps appear even starker to the casual observer given the increased profile of England’s Euro 2022 heroes, none of whom play for West Ham, though, in fairness, Tottenham are also Lioness-less.
“Every club is investing in the WSL,” Konchesky adds. “It’s always going to be harder but it’s not always about having the best players, it’s about the squad and what you’ve got in that squad.
“Every lady’s dream, to go and play for their national team. We have got some players who do that and some younger ones who play for England [at age-group level]. There’s a big future here, we’ve got a lot of English players that hopefully can push for the seniors and hopefully that’s not too far away.”