Ezri Konsa is the new face in the England team who escaped gangland violence to learn the art of defending from John Terry - now, he is set to start at Euro 2024

Ezri Konsa is the new face in the England team who escaped gangland violence to learn the art of defending from John Terry - now, he is set to start at Euro 2024
By: dailymail Posted On: July 06, 2024 View: 87

  • Ezri Konsa earned his England call-up due to his impressive form at Aston Villa
  • Dean Smith has spoken of the defender's quality ahead of Switzerland fixture
  • LISTEN to It's All Kicking Off! EUROS DAILY: Why Southgate is talking 'nonsense' about England's Euro 2024 draw

If Ezri Konsa is chosen for the biggest game of his career on Saturday he will do so with John Terry's words ringing in his ears.

The Aston Villa defender is in line for a starting spot in England's Euro 2024 quarter-final with Switzerland – overdue reward for a player who has been outstanding under Unai Emery. Konsa has made great strides working with the Villa boss but the penny started to drop for him at Villa during his first season, when the outbreak of Covid-19 had brought competitive sport to a halt.

Former Chelsea and England captain Terry was part of Dean Smith's coaching staff during the 2019-20 campaign and Konsa could not have asked for a better teacher.

'John and I did a lot of one-to-one sessions, looking at different parts of my game,' Konsa recalled at the time. 'I asked him questions on what I need to do to improve, what I need to do to stay at the highest level and maintain a good mentality. After watching my clips with him, his main advice is to train hard, keep your training standards high and it will come back on the pitch.'

During lockdown, Terry and Konsa would speak in depth over Zoom about the art of central defending, watching clips selected by Terry. Konsa was still in the early stages of his Premier League career. Smith had also worked with the 26-year-old at Brentford and when Villa learned in the final days of the summer 2019 window that he was available for just £11million, they did not think twice. Konsa is probably worth five times that now and can enhance his value with a strong performance against the Swiss.

Ezri Konsa is preparing to make his first start for England at Euro 2024 against Switzerland
He has enjoyed at outstanding season at Aston Villa, which led to his call-up for tournament
The defender used to enjoy one-to-one sessions with John Terry (pictured on the right)

'What I love about him was the way he would approach JT himself, wanting to talk through his clips and wanting to know the little intricacies of defending,' Smith, who is now in charge of US club Charlotte, told Mail Sport. 'We'd signed him at Brentford from Charlton and he'd settled in straightaway. He's a bit of a lad around the dressing room and that's good – he has a really good personality.

'But when he came to Villa he became really serious about his career and understood that if he worked hard, he could become one of the best. That's exactly what he's done.'

Talk to Villa insiders about Konsa and reports are uniformly positive. 'Bright, hard-working and ambitious,' said one. 'One of the nicest people you could meet,' added another. His willingness to learn made him an ideal pupil for Emery, who understood Konsa's potential immediately.

Emery likes to invite players to his office for one-on-one meetings where he will go through recordings on an iPad to explain his plans. On the training ground, he marches through the sessions, clipboard in hand, sometimes intervening to manhandle a player into precisely the right spot defend a set piece. 'Not here! Here!' the Spaniard will bark. Konsa absorbs it all.

Without football, Konsa's life might have turned out very differently. Growing up in a tough part of Newham, east London, Konsa was aware of peers who became involved in crime and gangland violence. His older brother, Antonio, took special care to ensure Ezri was not pulled in that direction.

Yet Konsa's rise should be no surprise when you consider his football roots. Senrab FC, a junior club based in east London, is a true talent factory for the top level of English football. Along with Konsa and Terry, Sol Campbell, Ledley King, Ray Wilkins, Jermain Defoe, Lee Bowyer and Bobby Zamora also played there.

Konsa is the latest to win full international honours – though he could have been playing for Portugal against France instead.

His former manager, Dean Smith (right) has told Mail Sport of the qualities he notices in Konsa
He has since kicked on under Unai Emery (pictured on the left), but life could have been very different if it wasn't for football and his brother
Smith admitted he was surprised at how long it took Konsa to get the call-up and said that Portugal were interested

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'I was amazed he didn't get in the England squad sooner that he did,' Smith says. 'When I was at Villa, I was getting worried. His dad has Portuguese roots and I knew Portugal were tapping him up to investigate whether he would be eligible.

'If he plays in a back three for England it won't faze him. He did it for me at both Brentford and Villa, and most teams build up in a three in the modern game. He's efficient with the ball and he doesn't overplay. When people see him they'll just think 'Yeah, he's a really good defender.'

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