Head to Head: Ezri Konsa x Yxng Bane
Photography: Oscar Eckel / Styling: Osal Studio / Yxng Bane Styled by Jay Hines / Ezri Konsa Styled by Grant Sandiford / Assisted by Koby Ohene
Head to Head bridges the gap between the world’s finest footballers and renowned cultural leaders by bringing them together to share their stories and experiences as well as giving them the opportunity to find out the answers to the questions they’ve always wanted to ask.
Following on from Guillermo Andrade and Héctor Bellerin and Michael Ward and Rhian Brewster, we investigate the family ties of Ezri Konsa and Yxng Bane in the latest episode of Head to Head.
You don’t have to listen to Ezri Konsa and Yxng Bane chatting for long to realise that they know each other inside out. In fact, they’re basically family; Konsa’s Mum is Bane’s godmother and the two spent their early years together kicking ball in Newham.
“Me, my brother, Bane and Bane’s little brother we were all massively into football”, Konsa explains. “Every day, every weekend we’d go to play at a cage, it was always us four, so as a family we were always into football.”
They’ve come a long way since then, with Konsa now a fully-fledged Premier League centre back at Aston Villa following a £12m move from Brentford last summer and Bane being one of the most versatile artists in the UK with a roll-call of tracks that include the likes of Platinum-selling Rihanna and, most recently, Are You Mad ft K.Trap.
Although Konsa is the youngest at 22, two years below Bane, there is no signs of the traditional family hierarchies of age or experience. In-between laughing and joking on set, the pair talk about the importance of their circle and their journeys to date with a maturity beyond their years. When asked to describe each other, both come back with answers that point to a set of shared values: the importance of hard work, family and staying driven…
“I think it came from seeing how hard our parents worked for us. With three kids, Bane was the same, it was tough seeing how hard our parents had to work to put food on the plate and give us new trainers, d’you know what I mean?” Konsa says. “Seeing that and the struggle they went through really gave us a driving force to succeed in what we wanna do and I think that’s been a key point, being with each other a lot and being a driving force for each other.”
“I felt the support from you lot initially”, Bane adds. “When I first started we were just playing in the car but my cousins and friends were telling me ‘you go do it’. I feel like the push I got from the people around me definitely kickstarted it.”
The east Londoners’ shared positive outlook has got them a long way so far with much more to come, but for Head to Head, we wanted to take things back to basics, testing their relationship to see how well they really know each other.
Away from the Head to Head, we caught up with Ezri to talk about life in the top flight too, so keep scrolling to find out more about Villa’s dramatic survival, learning off John Terry and which player is always playing Bane in the dressing room…
Let’s start with Villa – the last few games of the 19/20 season, what was the feeling?
EK: It was crazy, I’m gonna be real it was hectic. The first game of lockdown against Sheffield United we felt we should’ve won and we were disappointed to come away with just a point.
Then the games after that we were disappointed that we could’ve done more or we were unlucky, we were better than this team but we just couldn’t find that end product.
We had chances but we just couldn’t score which was kind of killing our confidence as a team, but I think we believed in each other so much that we were going into games thinking ‘we’re gonna win this game’.
Going into the last four games of the season we were 7 points behind which was crazy. Looking at the table, you’re thinking ‘nah there’s not a chance’, but I think the belief we have in ourselves was absolutely crazy and I feel our destiny was to stay in the Prem because we still had results going our way.
The second to last game of the season, we needed Man City to beat Watford by 4 goals and they did, so going into our game against Arsenal and winning 1-0, it’s like it was written for us to be in the Premier League.
Was that the moment when you felt ‘this is it’?
I felt like that from when we beat Palace 2-0, I felt like ‘y’know what, we’re in this, we’ve got this’, since Palace we went on a very good run conceding two goals in the last four games.
We went into the last four games thinking ‘we can do this’ and that’s what we did, we call it The Great Escape. It was such a great feeling, such a massive club as well and a club like Aston Villa deserve to stay in the Premier League.
How does the feeling change from getting promoted to staying up?
I wasn’t with Villa when they got promoted but all of the lads were saying it is better than getting promoted at Wembley. We have two Egyptian teammates who played in the World Cup and they were said this is way better than playing in the World Cup. I think it’s because we were written off from so early, there were so many pundits that when you watch games or on Match Of The Day everyone’s saying ‘I think Aston Villa are done, they haven’t got this’.
We had a lot of doubters and people that wrote us off so for us to prove them all wrong was a feeling that the players haven’t had before.
Talking as a defender, obviously John Terry’s at Villa – how much influence does he have on you?
Of course he’s someone that we all look up to, watching John Terry as kids and seeing how good he was, winning so many trophies – to work with him is a pleasure.
He helps us a lot, we do a lot of defensive shape with him and I feel it really did kick in after lockdown, we were doing so much work at the back that with him, we’d go into games and you could just see the difference.
What has been the biggest surprise for you playing in the Premier League, you’ve gone from L1 to Championship to Premier League. People make a big thing of that step up, as a player what’s the biggest thing you’ve noticed?
The quality. I feel like in the Premier League any little mistake, not even a proper mistake, they’ll punish you and it’ll be a goal.
Obviously the quality of players, you’ve got world class players playing in the Premier League so there’s a big, big difference. In the Prem you’ve gotta be fully concentrated, obviously that’s the case in every league but you’ve gotta do it for 95 minutes plus, so I’d say that’s one of the biggest differences.
When was the moment for you that football became more than a vocational thing? When did that moment click where you think ‘this is serious’?
I think as a young academy player you don’t realise. From the age of U10s or whatever up to U13s, 14s, even 15s I’d say, that’s when you don’t really think about the long-term, you just want to enjoy your football there and then.
U16s level, that’s when it really hit me – I’m really trying to play for a professional contract, from U16s that’s when you finally start to see you’re gonna take this seriously. If not, you’re in trouble.
You’ve got ‘blessed’ tattooed on your hand, does that go some way to explain how you feel about your personal journey as a player?
I got this done three or four years ago. There was a moment where I thought, ‘I am blessed’ – there’s a lot of kids out there that wanna be in the position that I’m in. I’m so thankful to be here. I feel like I’m blessed that God’s given me the talent that I have now and I’m grateful and humbled to be in the position that I am.
Obviously you’re here today with Bane and you guys are family. How much of his work do you push on the Villa boys?
All of the players know Bane’s music, so I don’t need to! In the changing room Jack Grealish does all the music; he’s the DJ. There was one time when I was chilling and I heard Bane’s Rihanna playing, but I didn’t know that Jack and Bane knew each other from before and followed each other on Instagram. Jack always plays Bane’s songs in the changing room. The lads love it – no complaints!
Finally, what is your biggest dream?
To be one of the best centre backs in the world and play for England. That’s it.