Ezri Konsa’s England inclusion may shock outsiders – but his versatility is invaluable

In some ways, it was fitting Ezri Konsa, a central defender by trade and his favourite position, made his international bow at right-back.

Konsa has been Aston Villa’s most reliable and consistent centre-back since Unai Emery arrived but, as has been a theme throughout his career, from his youth days at Charlton Athletic to his one season at Brentford and now in the Midlands, his coachability has always been his driving trait.

“Full-back is different,” he told The Athletic last August. “You’re up against very good wingers in the Premier League, but it’s a challenge that I look forward to. Whenever the gaffer puts me there, I’ll do a job.”

Konsa would not choose to play right-back but every time he is troubleshooted into the role, he performs diligently. His England debut followed a similar pattern, replacing an injured Kyle Walker in the first half of the friendly against Brazil in March. It was an overdue reward. Konsa had remained patient, amid frustration at repeated omissions from England, especially when he was eligible to play for Portugal.

Konsa is a modern-day defender, with outstanding recovery pace that emboldens his confidence in operating within a high line and at full-back. Coaches who have worked with him talk about how he possessed an inherent anticipation from an early age, undisturbed by the size or the speed of attackers, due to his willingness to defend on the front foot.

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Konsa has become a key figure at Villa (Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Team-mates and coaches described a “good arrogance”. His mindset was always to defend large spaces, one-v-one and, with the ball, step out to build play from deep areas.

These personality traits have undoubtedly been discerned in his three England appearances. Gareth Southgate, following the 3-0 victory against Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Konsa played across several positions in the back line, spoke of his “confidence in an England shirt” and how he has taken the international scene in his stride.


Every England display has matched the theme of his career. Initially overlooked and sometimes undervalued, Konsa tends to gradually make people sit up and take note of how good he is.

“We took Lewis Dunk off as a precaution and the best way was to put Ezri at centre-half, which is his strongest position anyway,” said Southgate, after the Bosnia win.

“That’s his third cap, he’s done very well in all three. That adaptability is helpful to us. He’s playing in a team (at Villa) that has had an extremely good season and he’s been a big part of that.”

Those who have watched Emery’s training sessions say they are meticulous in detail and the Spaniard often takes players and positional units out from the main session to carry out individual work. Konsa has profited from these sessions, working on body shape, triggers to step up in a high and compact defensive structure and playing out from the back, where build-up is choreographed and provides the defender on the ball with multiple passing options.

“I believe in myself, and since the boss has come in, I’ve grown a lot as a player and a man and I want to continue doing that,” said Konsa.

Emery’s defensive teachings of the more nuanced elements have installed a level of consistency and, steadily, Konsa’s leadership traits. The defender is making concerted efforts to be a louder communicator and lead the back line.

“He’s playing now with the national team and for the first time in Europe,” said Emery. “These are very good experiences. He has been more consistent and demanding of himself.”

“An incredible player,” said Villa team-mate Matty Cash in September, when asked about Konsa being overlooked for England. “I can only speak so highly of Ez. The squad knows how good he is. I can’t believe he’s not an international player. He’s one of the best Premier League centre-backs.”

Perhaps the 26-year-old’s delayed entrance onto the international platform was due to his subtly in defending. Although front-footed, he does not make crunching tackles or performative actions. He is more understated and rarely goes to ground. In the 2022-23 season, he was Villa’s second-most fouled player, explained by his inclination to step in front of opponents and intercept.

Konsa ranked in the top two per cent of centre-backs from Europe’s top five leagues for the fewest number of challenges lost in one-on-one situations (0.12 per 90 minutes). At the start of April, Konsa held the best tackle rate of any defender in Europe’s top five leagues, with 91 per cent. Considering 44 per cent of all his Premier League appearances had been at right-back at this stage — and therefore in more exposed areas and in a greater volume of one-against-one scenarios — such a record only grew in prominence.

Konsa’s moonlighting at right-back is both a product of Villa only having one archetypal specialist in the position (Cash) and modern football not really wanting full-backs — instead, teams favour central defenders who can play wide or defensive wingers.

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Konsa’s poise in defending has impressed team-mates, Emery and now Southgate (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

When his team are in possession, Konsa tends to become the third centre-back, with the right winger in front of him holding width and the opposite full-back (left-back) staying high and wide. Akin to Walker’s role under Southgate, Konsa has replicated this in an England shirt.

“We have to push him because he has qualities that are more than what he is showing,” said Emery. “We have to continue to work with him defensively and on his positioning, playing as the third man at centre-back.”

Only Burnley had a larger number of players ruled out through injury than Villa last season. Konsa’s presence has grown since the serious knee injury Tyrone Mings suffered on the opening day of the campaign. Mings had been his long-standing defensive partner and together, they had forged a partnership that was instrumental in Villa’s qualification for the Europa Conference League.

Cash was not fully trusted at right-back by Emery, meaning Konsa would remain at right-back for long periods. While on the occasions he would return to centre-back, Konsa did not always have Pau Torres alongside him — the best defensive duo — due to the Spaniard’s recurring injury issues. Regardless of this uncertainty, Konsa remained unfazed, as did his propensity for important recovery tackles.

And so Konsa is now going to Germany, having survived the seven-man culling from the provisional England squad. He has proved, once again, that the more you watch him, the more you appreciate his subtleties in versatile defending.

(Top photo: Matt McNulty – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

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