Kovi Konowiecki is a footballer who knows all about the lengths you sometimes need to go to while chasing dreams of a professional career.
A native of California, he’s played the game in LA, New York, North Carolina, Germany, Belgium, Israel and now finds himself in London – turning out for his university while doing a Masters degree.
It’s been quite a journey for Konowiecki, whose father is a lawyer and mother a teacher originally from Israel. It was the latter who first introduced him to the beautiful game as a young boy when they sat together and watched games on TV.
“I remember we used to watch Valencia FC. There was a player called Pablo Aimar who had similar hair to me, it was long and curly, and my mother used to say that I should be like him.”
Having older siblings who both played, it was hard to escape an infatuation with ‘soccer’.
“I’ve loved football since I was a little kid. I have two older brothers who both played, and I looked up to them a lot. When I watched them play I became enchanted by the sport.”
For a while, however, Konowiecki was also into baseball. “I used to love it and I played it a lot, perhaps more so than football when I was really young. I used to be really fast so any time I made contact with the ball I would just run.”
By the age of nine he began to realise that his footballing talent was advanced compared to other kids, and joined a local club side which allowed his and skills to flourish.
Aged 13, thoughts began to form of making it as a pro. “I was identified by the U14 US national team which was a real eye-opener for me. It made me realise that this is something I really should pursue.
“It snowballed from there and I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the academy of 1860 Munich in Germany, which at the time was known to be one of the best in Europe for developing young players.”
Trust and support
Flying to Germany with another US prospect Bobby Wood, the-then 14-year-old put his education on hold and moved in with a host family to start his European footballing career.
“We were actually the first two Americans to be invited over to a European youth facility/team. I lived there for two years, leaving my friends and family behind. I went to Munich and lived with few host families during my time there. So that’s about the time football began to take over my life.”
“My parents were incredible. Looking back, I can’t believe they actually supported me as much as they did”
With so much trust and support from his family, Konowiecki was able to follow his dream in Europe.
“My parents were incredible. Looking back, I can’t believe they actually supported me as much as they did. At the time for me, it seemed a no brainer, how could I turn down the opportunity to go to this amazing club?
“Being older now and having a wiser perspective on the situation, its pretty insane that they let me go, especially by myself. I think that’s just a testament to how supportive they are. Without all the drive and the commitment, I don’t think any of this would have been possible.”
Despite his ambitions of becoming a professional, the youthful Konowiecki kept himself grounded, keeping his options open and going to college back home in his thoughts.
“My parents always used to preach that football will only last so long and that there is a life after football,” he said.
By signing a professional sporting contract, you in turn lose your NCAA eligibility, which is your ability to play college sports in the US.
“I had a big decision to make. Do I want to stay in Europe and pursue professional football now, or do I want to go back to the States to get a education and play college soccer and then try to make it back in Europe.”
Then, within a few weeks of returning to the USA, the midfielder was invited to train with Club Brugge in Belgium after being spotted at an American showcase.
“Almost immediately after moving back home, I re-packed my bags and went to Belgium for a month or so. After a while, deep down I knew that I really wanted to come home after being away for so long. I ended up coming back and finishing my last year of high school in California.”
Four crazy years followed, starting his collegiate career at St Johns University in Queens, New York, where Konowiecki spent one year before transferring to Wake Forest in North Carolina.
He also played for LA-based former MLS side Chivas USA in between. Training with senior players allowed him to further hone his skills.
“I feel like my youthfulness and energy was something that I brought to the game.
“I felt like I was always one of the hardest workers and had that fighting mentality that I needed to assert myself. I think I learned a lot from them, a lot rubbed off on me from the veterans at the club.”
Leaving college with a degree in communications and media studies, Konowiecki didn’t want to give up on his footballing dream and wanted to give it one last shot before bowing out. Holding a dual American-Israeli citizenship, he searched for a club in his mother’s home country.
“Israel was my last straw playing for football at a professional level. I wasn’t considered a foreigner, so it made the process a whole lot easier. It was good, I enjoyed playing there.”
His style matched the way they play in Israel, a more technical skilful game, with no emphasis on the physical side of the game. Signing for second division side Hapoel Kfar Sabbah, he was once again enjoying his football.
However, Israel’s tense political situation was never far from his mind, with the threat of bombs and missile attacks on its major cities. Being close to Tel Aviv is was unnerving to say the least.
“Israel had an escalated political climate at the time and believe it or not there were missiles being fired towards Tel Aviv. I never actually directly suffered from it all but it was pretty surreal.
“There was a lot of pressure and emotional strain involved with the game before. But I’m really enjoying my football again”
“It was crazy but you had to just continue with everyday life like everything is normal. That was one of the major reasons I ended up moving back home. I felt like I had a weight on my shoulders at all times, having to plan your day around missile strikes does take it out of you.”
Now settled in England, studying photography, Konowiecki is relishing his new life. “I’ve always been interested in the arts and photography, my parents exposed me to these things when I was younger and while I was growing up I was visiting galleries and exhibitions.”
“It just felt right, I wanted to get my Masters in photography and I applied to some different schools and London seemed like an exciting opportunity.”
Still playing competitive football for his university side it is clear that his love for the game is still strong.
“Its refreshing, I feel like I’m going back to my roots, before I joined a club team, feeling like I’m playing with almost no pressure.”
With so many different levels of football on offer in the UK, a return to even semi-professional football must be mouth-watering for the American.
“Its refreshing, I feel like I’m going back to my roots”
“You never really know, recently I’ve been really enjoying football so I’ve been thinking about seeking out a higher level.
“Maybe looking at one of the lower non-league sides would be realistic for me, so it could be something I decide to do a little bit down the line.”
After what was a challenging time in Israel, London is offering a stress-free environment for the 23-year-old.
“Going out on that field and just playing for the love of the game is amazing. There was a lot of pressure and emotional strain involved with the game before. But I’m really enjoying my football again and loving life in London.”