In the first match in Manaus between Sweden and Colombia at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, the Eurpopean side's Pa Konate could be seen bursting forward down the wing on multiple occasions. Moments later, he was chasing down opposing forwards Miguel Borja and Teofilo Gutierrez.
In many ways, his tactical positioning is a representation of the modern full-back: half-attack, half-defence. So what does it take to play in the position? *FIFA.com *caught up with the Malmo-born man to find out and to learn more about the recent strides he’s made in his young career.
FIFA.com: How long have you been playing left-back and how long have you been working on the attacking side of the position?Pa Konate: I started as a left winger when I was young, but when I started to play 11 v 11 on a full pitch, I played left-back for one game and after that I just continued to play there! Attacking is the part I love about soccer. Even if I play at left-back I love to go forward and I have good stamina, that’s one of my strengths. I like to come into midfield and help them as much as I can, but I can’t forget to defend! It's important, especially in Sweden. You set up your defence first and then we take on the attacking side.
What qualities do you need to play left-back, to get up and down the wing and to help on attack and defence?You have to be willing to put the work in for the team. You have to be willing to run a lot, to be on the defensive and offensive side of things. Not all players have the mindset to do that.
Are there any left-backs you admire specifically?I love to watch Marcelo at Real Madrid. His attacking qualities fro, that position are what I try to recreate. That’s the kind of player I want to be.
You’ve had quite a year when you look back, winning the UEFA U-21 European Championship and playing in the UEFA Champions League. What’s this latest progression in your football career been like for you?I wasn’t really expecting it, to be honest. When you play with a team like Malmo, you don’t know exactly if you’re going to be playing Champions League in the next year. It was shocking for me to be playing at that level. Winning the U-21 Championship, too, was something I did not expect at all.
With the strides you've been making in your career you've also been involved in helping younger kids back at home in Malmo. Why was mentoring important for you and what do you tell the kids?
The first thing I tell them is to work hard in school and to study a lot. Even if you’re not naturally academic, it’s important because it helps you stay out of trouble in your life. My mum really made sure I stayed on top of my schoolwork. I have some friends who were good footballers but lived a different life, unfortunately. School helped me adapt and keep me motivated to be a better footballer. If you can balance both, it’s good for you. You cannot just focus on one thing. I think that’s really important.
What have you learned from playing in the Champions League and now at the Olympic Football Tournament?
Playing at this level you need to be at 100 per cent all the time. If you go into a game not completely focused, there’s a lot of players that can take your place. As a defender, I have to be 100 per cent all the time because there’s really good offensive players in this tournament.
When you heard your country’s national anthem in your first ever Olympics match, what did it mean to you?
Yes, the national anthem really moved me. Standing there wearing the Sweden shirt is stuff I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy. I loved it.
How does it feel being an Olympian? You’re on the world’s stage now.
Once again I can’t believe it. It’s so crazy that I’m here playing in the Olympic Games. I don’t even think that has sunk in yet. I didn’t think when I was young that I would play in the Olympics and now I’m here. I’m just living in the moment right now.
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s crucial match against Japan, how will you prepare for them and be ready for the challenges they present?
We have to lift each other up, look forward. We have 90 minutes against Japan. If we don’t win, our chances are really slim for getting through the group. We have to go out and win the game, we’re in the Olympics now. There are only so many times Sweden has been here in the football tournament, so we have to do it for our country and for ourselves. We have to go out and give 100 per cent.