Thursday, 19 July 2012

In Praise of...Ledley King

So it is July 19th 2012 which is the day Ledley King finally gave in to the constant injuries that befell his 14 year career.  It could have been July 19th last year, or the same day next year.  But all in all it must be believed that Ledley has finally done the right thing.  For Ledley, his career will be more a case of what might have been, rather than what it was.

In his 14 year career he accumulated only 260 league appearances, 313 in all competititons.  That is an average of 18.5 games per season.  Where most professionals are expected to play 45-50 games a season, so really he should be quitting after having played 630 games.  He only played about 40% of the games he should have throughout his career.

However, sometimes it is what you do when you are around that makes people remember you with such fondness.  King came through the ranks of the Spurs Academy and was granted a debut in an end of season clash against Liverpool at Anfield in May 1999; however it was a performance against the same opposition at White Hart Lane over a year later in November 2000 that set him apart from the crowd.  King played in central midfield, a position out of his comfort zone yet he did a job for a team that resulted in a home win for Tottenham.  His maturity and control of his play made him look to be something special.

Soon he got to play at his preferred central defence and again he grew into the role as model professional and expert player.  After Sol Campbell left Tottenham for the hated North London rivals, Arsenal in July 2001 it was time to turn to Ledley as the beacon of hope and leader of the team, soon he was made team captain.

During that spell of transition he scored a rare goal away at Bradford, rare yes but it remains the fastest goal ever to be scored in the Premier League, King found the back of the net after 9.7seconds.

From 2006 though, King's career became one of stop start as the knee injury sustained in pre-season training of that year would define his legacy.  King's injury was not like normal knee injuries where cartilage and ligaments could be repaired; in King's case it was no cartilage at all. It meant his bones were touching each other and so the injury had to be managed with care meaning no training and not playing every game of the season, for instance if he played Saturday he could not play until the following weekend.

Whilst King did manage to find some great performances and a huge level of consistency in his play, especially during Spurs' charge for the Champions League in 2009/10 culminating in the victory at Manchester City.  That run of form allowed him to be selected for England's disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa that summer, although a groin injury sustained in the first half of the first game versus America meant his tournament was over.

Another sad indictment is that during a 14 year career where he was heralded as one of the finest English defenders of his era, he only garnered 21 full caps and two goals.  In contrast to his Senrab clubmate from his youth, John Terry, who is closer to 100 hundred than 50 and has captained his country.

The argument can continue that King was and is a better defender than Terry; as a chorus of a White Hart Lane song can attest to.  King even had a last laugh in 2008 when he beat Terry's all conquering Chelsea in the Carling Cup final at Wembley, and was able to lift the trophy (and then proceed to attempt to drink Faces nightclub in Ilford dry that same evening)

Personally, I was at that game and was amazed at how two eternally crocked players like King and Jonathan Woodgate totally outplayed the dominant Chelsea attack of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda et al.  They did not so much keep them at bay, as not give them a sniff.  For me it remains the most dominant defensive display I have had the privilege to see.

Alas, in what was now his last season, 2011/12 King was becoming more prone to mistakes letting attackers muscle him off the ball (Grant Holt of Norwich for one) and being clearly outpaced by younger legs; at least Younes Kaboul and Brad Friedel were able to account for any errors in a season that saw Tottenham finish 4th in the Premier League.

However, for all the way his season finished and for what his injury history will overshadow part of his career, for a man who it seemed was around forever, to retire at the young age of 31 is still sad news.  It should not be discounted that he is a rare breed - a one club man of distinction and class which in this day and age of mercenaries should be applauded.

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