The rise of Ezri Konsa

Aston Villa centre-half Ezri Konsa is in line to start for England in their Euro 2024 quarter-final clash with Switzerland. Here is the full story on his rise to the top.
England v Brazil - International Friendly
England v Brazil - International Friendly / Alex Livesey - Danehouse/GettyImages

Ahead of this afternoon's Euro 2024 quarter-final showdown between England and Switzerland we take a look at the rise of Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa. Konsa was playing in the League One play-off semi-finals for Charlton Athletic in 2018 and just six years on the Villa star is in line to make his full international debut.

""If the boss puts me on I will always be ready. I always dreamed of playing for England as a kid. Wherever Southgate puts me, I am ready""

The 26-year-old centre-half has been at the centre of an Aston Villa revolution over a five year spell that has seen the club go from narrowly surviving Premier League relegation to finishing in the top four and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. Konsa has played 73 out of 76 league games over the past two seasons and his stats have shown that he is one of the best defenders in the Premier League. His impressive one-on-one defending and ability to adapt to different positions led to Konsa being called up by Gareth Southgate and now he faces the biggest day of his career to date. Let us take a closer look at the journey that has seen Konsa reach the top level.

From the streets of London....

Born and raised in Newham, East London, Konsa grew up as a Tottenham Hotspur fan and his game was therefore naturally shaped and influenced by Spurs legend Ledley King. Although it is believed that Konsa's favourite player as a child was actually Dimitar Berbatov, his playing style and physique swayed him to pursue the centre-half position.

Konsa played for local Sunday league club Senrab who boast incredibly successful alumni with Ledley King himself, John Terry and Sol Campbell all representing the club in the past. Konsa attended Cumberland Community School alongside attending his football education with Charlton Athletic. It was following impressive performances from an early age for Senrab that led to being invited to join the Charlton academy at the age of 10. That all sounds wonderful and like many other top footballers journey, but the area of his upbringing brought many challenges.

Speaking to The Athletic in 2020 Konsa said:

""My area was rough. Proper rough. You heard a lot about kids getting stabbed so football massively helped me. 100%""

Newham is a high-crime and highly deprived area. It actually has the second highest crime rate in London and its crime rate per person was 34% higher than London overall in 2023. Whilst many of his school peers were getting themselves in with the wrong crowds and heading down difficult paths, Konsa was determined to keep his head down and focus on his football. When asked if he had a Plan B in case football did not work out he said: "No, I'm going to be a footballer. Trust me".

Konsa would struggle with life in the classroom and would often be found laughing and joking about football instead of completing his work. His Maths teacher would say the only way to get him to engage was if there was a football aspect to the lesson, so he would describe the figures or equations involved as transfer fees, match attendances and so forth. However, as his progression through the Charlton academy improved his school work suffered, and he would often miss school time to train and improve on the pitch.

The big breakthrough

Konsa was awarded a scholarship with Charlton at the age of 15, a year early. This came having already become a regular starter for the Under-18 side. Now a student at Harris Academy, Konsa left school following the completion of his GCSEs in which he managed to scrape a series of passes, including Maths!

Following his departure from school, his training time with Charlton continued to pick up and he was soon on the cusp of the first team. Konsa spent time in the gym and improving his physique whilst executing the skills required to play at centre-back, right-back and defensive midfield.

Ezri Konsa
Charlton Athletic v Peterborough United - Sky Bet League One / James Chance/GettyImages

At the age of 18, Konsa was called up to the first-team for the first time having signed his first professional contract just a week earlier. He was an unused substitute for Charlton's Championship match with Burnley. Konsa would continue to play for the Under-21's and occasionally make the matchday squad for the first team but he would have to wait to for his senior debut.

""He was well composed in possession and used his body well for his age. He was very clever buying a lot of free kicks. When he came into the first team we complemented each other well. I was the wholehearted John Terry type and he was the calmer, more polished Rio Ferdinand type""

Luke Pearce (Charlton team mate)

His full senior debut did eventually come in the next season (2016/17) in an EFL cup game against Cheltenham Town. Konsa certainly did enough to show what he could do as he would go on to become a mainstay in the Charlton team and making 39 appearances across all competitions. As a result, Konsa was named as the club's Young Player of the Season.

Making his way up the EFL ladder

Another season as a regular in the Charlton starting XI meant Konsa had guided the team to the League One play-offs. However, a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Shrewsbury Town meant Konsa would not be moving on to the Championship. Well, not quite yet.

Missing out on promotion meant it was virtually impossible for the club to keep hold of Konsa and Brentford had previously informed the club that they were very interested in taking Konsa to the next level. Despite Charlton doing their best to persuade him to stay, Konsa's opportunity to progress was banging on the door and a £2.5 million transfer to Brentford was finalised in June 2018.

Brentford Headshots
Brentford Headshots / MB Media/GettyImages

Dean Smith, who would go on to be Konsa's manager at Aston Villa, was the man who captured his signature and saw more than enough in his four months with the player at Brentford (before taking over at Villa) to convince him that the Premier League was the level he should be playing at.

Dean Smith moved to Villa in October 2018 and Thomas Frank stepped up from his position as Asssitant Manager to lead the team. Frank was keen to refine Konsa into a centre-back exclusively, having trained throughout his career to date to play at full-back and midfield as well. That season Konsa played 42 of 46 games in the Championship with all of them coming at the heart of the defence.

Ezri Konsa
Brentford v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

Brentford comfortably finished mid-table and his impressive performances saw him rewarded with selection in England's Under-21 squad for the European Championships.

""Ezri is well-built and athletic. He took risks but that was why we liked him. The way he defended was forward-thinking and his self-belief was top. We were not happy to lose him but it was fantastic to see him to to the top level. It was always obvious he would make it""

Lars Friis (Brentford development coach)

We are going up, say we are going up!

Following Aston Villa's promotion that season to the Premier League under Dean Smith's leadership, the former Brentford boss would haunt his former club by taking their best player with him to the top level. Konsa signed for Aston Villa in 2019 for a fee of £12 million.

The fee at the time was though to be very high for a player with just one season under his belt at the second level of English football. Many Brentford fans had claimed that the club had had Villa's "pants down" with the deal and that the "over-rated" defender wouldn't prove to be a good signing.

After sitting on the substitute bench for the first ten games in his first season in claret and blue the fans were wondering if the club had actually overpaid for Konsa. However, five years on and Ezri Konsa has become the Rolls Royce defender that his school teachers and junior football coaches knew he would go on to become.

Ezri Konsa
Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League / Michael Regan/GettyImages

After nearly 200 appearances for the Villans, Konsa is now a Champions League footballer and senior England international at the age of 26.

It is understood that Konsa will be the man selected to replace the suspended Marc Guehi after the Crystal Palace man picked up his second yellow card of Euro 2024 in the Round of 16 victory over Slovakia. Gareth Southgate is rumoured to be toying with the idea of playing a back three consisting of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Konsa with Kieran Trippier and Bukayo Saka playing a right and left wing-backs respectively.

Of course we all hope that England put in a performance and get the win needed to progress to the semi-finals but whatever happens we wish all the luck in the world to Ezri Konsa.

A childhood dream come true.

Ezri Konsa
England v Slovakia: Round of 16 - UEFA EURO 2024 / Jonathan Moscrop/GettyImages