During the early portion of this season, Everton and Liverpool target Ezri Konsa performed an unusual role in the Charlton first-team. The highly-rated 20-year-old is primarily a centre-back or at the very least a defender, but Karl Robinson utilised him in a more unique capacity from the bench. On several occasions, Konsa was brought on in central midfield, his predominant task seemingly to help see out victories by winning free kicks in the middle of the park and slowing down the clock.
Konsa proved incredibly adept at it and although it’s a rather unique trait, especially for a defender, it tells us much about why he’s so well-regarded, particularly in the context of English football. Those free kicks were earned by knowing how to use his body; putting it between the ball and an onrushing opponent hoping to stage a counter-attack with a tackle in deep midfield.
That quality fits perfectly into how the demands placed on central defenders are steadily changing in the modern game. More quality on the ball is expected than ever before, and defenders are asked to play their way out of trouble – be that by winning a foul like Konsa has shown he can or by passing through a press – rather than simply hoofing into row Z.
In recent years, we’ve seen just how much clubs are prepared to pay for that kind of defender through signings like John Stones and Virgil van Dijk and currently, eight of the ten most expensive defenders of all time are ball-playing centre-backs. If Everton or Liverpool can pick up one now on the cheap, albeit requiring substantial further development, they’ll save themselves a fortune in the long-run.
That alone makes Konsa something of a gamble worth taking, but there are other appealing qualities to his game as well. The youngster’s athleticism and physicality already stands out and underlines his versatility, although some suitors will be put off by the fact he measures in at just 6 foot – certainly on the short side by the standards of Premier League centre-halves.
Additionally, as we have seen through the impressive progress Dele Alli has made since stepping up to the top flight, experience in the Football League can really make a difference for young players; Konsa has already made 69 senior appearances for the Addicks and is now a recurring member of Robinson’s regular starting XI. Alli made 88 for MK Dons before moving to Spurs and while his exponential rise has been something of an incomparable anomaly, exposure to League One has helped Konsa quickly improve his reading of the game. He’s certainly more experienced than most at the age of 20, and more equipped to make the jump to the top flight.
Likewise, while it provides no guarantee of success, there’s certainly something to be said for Charlton academy products. The Roland Duchatelet regime won’t be remembered fondly by Addicks fans but it has allowed academy products to shine and under the much-maligned Belgian’s tutelage, Diego Poyet, Morgan Fox, Kasey Palmer, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Callum Harriott, Jordan Cousins, Joe Gomez and Ademola Lookman have all made the step up to either Championship or Premier League clubs. It wasn’t too long ago Arsenal and Liverpool signed Carl Jenkinson and Jonjo Shelvey from the Addicks as well.
Of course, some of those players have enjoyed far more successful careers than others, and Everton and Liverpool will be hoping Konsa – who Transfermarkt value at £450k – is something closer to Gomez and Lookman than Poyet, Fox or Cousins. But the academy setup at The Valley has shown its consistency in developing young footballers and currently, Konsa is the club’s standout prospect.
In turn though, perhaps that should shape how Liverpool and Everton approach this potential swoop. While they’re both keen to sign Konsa before somebody else does, his development is best-served in south east London for now; he’s surrounded by coaches who have known him since joining the club as a twelve-year-old, he’s getting games for a playoff-chasing side in a competitive third tier and he’s playing under a manager in Robinson who wants exciting and expansive football – Konsa will be allowed to play and express himself, rather than simply being asked to defend the near post with headers and clearances.
With that in mind, a loan back to Charlton for the remainder of the season seems the most logical option.