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West Ham manager Paul Konchesky on why WSL can match support of men’s game and what women’s football means to him

By on March 25, 2023 0 22 Views

West Ham manager Paul Konchesky on why WSL can match support of men’s game and what women’s football means to him

West Ham Women manager Paul Konchesky exclusive on life in the WSL, the growth of the game and taking his side to Old Trafford; watch Man Utd Women vs West Ham Women live on Sky Sports Football from 5pm on Saturday, kick-off 5.30pm

“If the women’s game keeps getting the media, the TV rights that it’s getting, I’m not saying the women’s game won’t ever get as big as the men’s game because I think it can get towards that.”West Ham Women manager Paul Konchesky was a late convert to the intricacies of the WSL, but like many others has now come to fully appreciate how undervalued the women’s game has been for so long.

The former England international and Premier League stalwart spent most of his professional life as a player focusing on the men’s game, before turning his hand to coaching.

Only then, joining then-Hammers boss Ollie Harder’s backroom staff in 2020, did he first get to see up close what more and more people have seen for themselves in recent years: that women’s football is growing exponentially in England, and with good reason.

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Women’s Football Weekend is a good time to reflect on that point and one other. Plenty has been said on the explosion in popularity of the game over the last two years especially – but really, it can never be said enough.

The second topic of note is how far it still has to go. For a game which was banned by the Football Association for half a century, getting to the point of a sold-out Wembley for the Euro 2022 final was a sensational achievement. The joint Sky Sports and BBC WSL broadcasting contract signed a year earlier was hailed as a “watershed moment” by those involved in the deal.

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In resource, finance and support, there is still a way to go. But Konchesky can feel the wheels turning still.
Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of a trip to title hopefuls Manchester United on Saturday, he would rather his side face the Red Devils at Leigh Sports Village instead of the 74,000-capacity Old Trafford. The fact that they aren’t speaks volumes for the way things are going.”Playing at men’s stadiums is a massive thing for the women’s game,” he says. “You really get to see how many people are interested – 20,000, 30,000 or even 40,000 people there.”If you can start putting games in stadiums more regularly, you’ll get even more people through the gate too. The exposure of the game speaks for itself. Every week now, there’s WSL games on, midweek games, that’s massive for the women’s game.”And on the back off the Lionesses, you can see they’re bringing more people into the stadiums. That’s only going to grow, and the more exposure it gets, it’s only going to go one way.”Konchesky came into women’s coaching slowly, first helping out with Harder before spending a year as his assistant and then finally taking the reigns following his departure last May.

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It’s been a useful experience for the 41-year-old, both in terms of getting used to the logistics of the different domestic competitions, but also in how he has had to adapt his coaching – for the better.He says: “I’ve loved every minute of working in the WSL. I learned a lot going under the radar, because I wasn’t the one everyone looks at. On the training pitch, at games, it helped me to learn my trade a little bit better than had I come straight into it.”The players are like sponges. They want to learn everything, every detail. When I worked with the boys, they don’t want that level of detail. Boys can think they know everything, whereas I’ve got senior players here who want to learn the maximum, everything – day in, day out.”That was a big eye-opener, you’ve got 15 to 20 players who want to know everything about everything, but I enjoy that because I can give back what I learned along the way and that’s exactly what I want to do.”Saturday’s game will be only Man Utd’s second home match at Old Trafford this season. More than 30,000 saw them sail past Aston Villa 5-0 in October, while they also beat Everton 3-1 comfortably at the ground last season.For the Hammers, as well as the Sky Sports cameras, they will have the pressure of playing in front of by far and away their biggest crowd of the season in the tea-time kick-off.

Konchesky says he has purposefully focused on separating his playing career from his management style, as he attempts to concentrate more on the future than his own past.It would be remiss not to draw on the memories of helping Charlton earn a goalless draw at a packed Old Trafford as a 20-year-old left-back in 2002. Or wins at the Etihad, Emirates and St James’ Park later in his career.”I’ve been lucky enough to play there a few times and we have here too but it was in Covid so there weren’t any fans. It’s going to be a big thing, not just for me to go and manage there but the team to go there and play,” he says.”It’s a fantastic stadium and a good place, but sometimes you just have to forget about that – it’s a grass football pitch, and we just have to concentrate that.”I don’t want us to think about it as a day out, you can get lost in thinking about too many things around the game. Enjoy the experience, but concentrate on the game.”Things on the pitch haven’t been easy for Konchesky or his players in recent weeks. They went from a record points tally before Christmas to enduring their current five-game winless run in 2023, and were hammered in the semi-finals of the Continental Cup by Chelsea.

A top-half finish is still a realistic and positive possibility, and off the pitch the club is in a good place. Earlier in March, Karren Brady became one of three new female members of the club’s board.Her new role will include “leading a new senior level of focus and support across all areas of the women’s football and commercial operation”, bringing more than 30 years of experience in the professional game to the position.”It’s a massive thing, all three on the board only prove where we want to take the club and how high we want to go,” says Konchesky. “It shows how much it means to West Ham as a whole that the women’s team mean business. Hopefully, it can make us stronger and take us higher.”Perhaps, on a weekend which will showcase the women’s game riding the crest of a wave which is only getting bigger, West Ham can do just the same after putting their money where their mouth is in the boardroom.Old Trafford would be a perfect place to do it.

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