I love Ledley King. I really do. He’ll live forever in Tottenham Hotspur’s history, his name alongside some of the clubs greatest ever players. He’s still the best defender at the club - even on one leg – and is the most influential player we have when fit, even more so than Modric and Bale. But unless somebody discovers a way to do knee transplants that work before May 2012 this has to be his last season.
I took no pleasure in penning that opening paragraph. It’s a difficult thing to think never mind write down. How can I say that about a lifelong fan? To Tottenham Hotspur’s most successful captain since Steve Perryman picked up three trophies in the 80’s?
The guy is simply class. He has it all speed, strength, two good feet and reads the game as well as anyone. Some players need double sessions, extra practice after training and a few games under their belt to reach the physical conditioning needed to play in the Premier League. Ledley just has a bit of a swim and some time on a bike. He’s already worn away the cartilage in his knee in service of the Lillywhites but when he puts on the shirt he sprints through the pain barrier and – most remarkably – never has a bad game. It’s just not in his make up.
I thought his time was up three years ago when we only wheeled him out for the big games. Juande Ramos described him as a ’Rolls Royce in the garage’, which is all well and good but he was up on blocks most of the time. All the reports suggested that this was as good as it was going to get. Chronic knee injuries like Ledley’s don’t get better they get managed.
But to his credit – and my surprise - when Harry Redknapp took over at Tottenham Hotspur his laissez faire approach to King’s training regime prolonged his career. He’s coaxed some truly breathtaking performances out of Ledley in the last two and three-quarter seasons. I even saw King’s resurgence under Redknapp celebrated on a t-shirt saying ‘Ledley King: Proving you don't need knee cartilage or training to be a World Class footballer since 2006’.
The constant chopping and changing at the heart of our defence contributed to making Spurs the leakiest team in the top eight last season. Over the course of next season we need to make the transition to a settled back four.
So shouldn’t we encourage him to play forever? As long as he can walk he’s our best option right? Not with the diminishing returns. King only turned out for us 9 times last season. But even if we could play 20 times a seasons like he had in Harry’s first 18 months in charge his next should be his last.
In the long term King’s sporadic presence is detrimental to the team. If he played a different position it wouldn’t be such a problem but if there’s an area of the pitch you want to have a consistent partnership it’s at centre back. The constant chopping and changing at the heart of our defence contributed to making Spurs the leakiest team in the top eight last season. Over the course of next season we need to make the transition to a settled back four.
Obviously we can’t expect to have the same two centre backs for a whole season, people get injured (which is the main problem with Ledley) but come August 2012 you’d hope we could find a solid pairing from Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul, Steve Caulker and Bongani Khumalo. King when fit + one other may seem an attractive solution to get us through any given 90 minutes but as a long term direction for the club it’s flawed. There have been many instances where a Tottenham side featuring Ledley have put in barnstorming performances against big clubs, only to lose him, and the next match, on a wet afternoon in the Midlands.
Ledley’s presence beyond next season also has implications for the 25-man squad rule. We have some cracking young players who’ll be looking to stake their claim next season. As this crop gets older the likes of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose (who I hope will still be Spurs players for the 2012/13 campaign) will need to be registered in the 25 man squad leaving little room for a luxury player who can only play half a season. Even if that luxury is a diamond encrusted, gold plated, platinum rimmed classic car that you sometimes stick in the centre of your defence, we just can’t afford it.
Lastly there’s the affect playing beyond 2012 will have on King himself. Even though he makes it look easy playing football in the top flight when you have nothing separating the bones in your knee can’t be good for him. To extend his career just for one more - injury set back plagued - season in the sun isn’t worth chancing his fitness and mobility in later life over. And from a fans point of view we don’t want severe achy knee to be the reason Ledley can’t go into a coaching role at the club he loves. If he turns out to be any good hopefully one day he’ll be our manager.
So at the end next season I’ll say with a heavy heart, “Ledley. Thank you for your service and some great memories. You’ve played through pain and given everything to Spurs. I don’t want to see you do yourself permanent damage because pride and short term-ism stood in the way. It’s the best for you and the club I hope you stay a part of.
The King has retired, Long coach the King.
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