Ledley King returns and Tottenham Hotspur win. And win. And win. But can White Hart Lane’s balsawood hero keep it up?
Last season, back in those balmy days when Spurs were tearing into the Milanese and keeping the beast of Eastlands from the door, I was among those calling for the abdicaton of our king. High, indefensible treason, I know. But it's hardly a healthy situation. You couldn't imagine Fergie authorising such a sentimental selection policy. Nor does it feel particularly fair on his centre back rivals. The message? No matter how well you perform, for however many consecutive games, you will be dropped if Ledley gets through his friday swim. Even prospective defensive recruits might baulk at facing such unreasonable dismissal. No, I thought it best for our hobbly monarch to retire his crown.
Of course, I was an idiot. Perhaps my about-turn could also be linked to Sebastian Bassong's curious transformation into a unwieldy liability, the club's patience with Jonathan Woodgate's own injury saga expiring and Bolton's exorbitant Gary Cahill ransom. But it's also down to unavoidable, lovely facts. Ledley played the last two games of last season. Spurs triumphed in both, including a first win in 18 years at Anfield. This term, Spurs suffered a pair of bracing Manchester beatings before his return. The result? Three league wins in succession and only one, hugely avoidable goal given up. Pleasingly, Younes Kaboul is also now reaping the same benefits Michael Dawson has spent six years enjoying. Centre back partners soak up Ledley's calmness and unconsciously grow in confidence around him. The whole team appears happier with its talisman on the field, as though the club's cuddly mascot has become human and popped on a first team shirt.
Tottenham will endure several mind-blowingly infuriating crevasses to match this current peak over the course of this season. But they’ll be far shallower should King’s fragile rule continue.
On Saturday, Ledley sauntered through another 90 (granted, he was afforded a 12 minute rest in the Liverpool massacre), where, in truth, Tottenham were rarely too ruffled. Benoit Assou-Ekotto will have endured a right old Cockney ear-bashing for his laissez-faire hoof that led to Wigan’s lifeline, but once Gareth Bale failed to hurdle Steve Gohouri’s final assault, Spurs handled a fairly dry storm. Largely thanks to their captain’s poise. Against Wolves, there was the remarkable statistic that showed King failed to attempt a single tackle. He doesn’t often need to. He’ll instead shepherd danger away subtly. Yes, his body can ill-afford too many last-ditch lunges, but he’s adapted to his limitations. Ledley’s now honed his positioning so carefully that he insures trouble is dealt with early and without fuss. Even his run’s changed. When he is forced into moving through the gears, it’s now a fairly ungraceful, lolloping canter. But it’s effective.
As all Spurs fans will tell you, it's important not to get too excited by any brief flurry of Ledley sightings. We all get excited, feel reassured by his presence (he's the one link any of us have to the Tottenham of a decade ago) and dare to imagine a season of uninterupted rule. And then, sure as a Fernando Torres mishap follows a goal, news will filter through of a problem. A breakdown during his week's solitary training canter. Another problem thrown up by his treacherous body. And suddenly, we have to forget all about him again. Like an absent father who shows up out of the blue with an armful of gifts and huge promises but disappears just as quickly. We'll have to adapt again to life without Ledley and pray stepdad Willam Gallas can will his own troublesome body through another campaign to hold Dawson, Kaboul or Bassong's hand.
But allow yourself, Tottenham fans, just for a minute, to imagine this side's potential should King's remarkable anti-training routine allow him to cotton wool his way through the season. Imagine if he and William Gallas can finally buddy up and form a quality of partnership their mutual abilities teases at. The top four promised land suddenly goes from optimistic-thought-should-Arsenal-continue-wobbling to full on expectancy. A Spurs spine of Friedel-King-Parker-Adebayor, tarted up with Walker, Modric, Bale and Van der Vaart is bettered by almost none. Of course, Tottenham will endure several mind-blowingly infuriating crevasses to match this current peak over the course of this season. But they’ll be far shallower should King’s fragile rule continue..
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