Whilst Ledley King’s ongoing knee problems will lead many Premier League followers to draw this conclusion, Fabio Capello has looked beyond what many consider to be perceived wisdom and identified King as a contender for a place in England’s 23-man squad for the World
King undoubtedly has the quality to secure a place in the final 23 and has been in excellent form for Tottenham in the closing stages of the season. The 29-year-old displayed his influence and calming presence in captaining the side, helping Spurs to secure fourth spot and a Champions League place. Despite his well-documented knee problems, a recurring thigh strain has been responsible for the majority of the defender’s absences this campaign. Since his return against Arsenal, he has remained injury free and also managed to successfully complete four games in 10 days as the season drew to a close, boosting his chances of a late run into Capello’s squad.
Utilising his 6ft 2in frame, he is aerially dominant in defence and also provides a significant threat in the opposition penalty area. He found the net from attacking corners twice in is last four games against both Manchester teams, although his goal against City was subsequently disallowed. ‘Deadly Ledley’ still holds the record for the fastest goal in Premiership history and his aerial prowess could provide England with another option as they lack height in the attacking third. Far from being limited to competing aerially, he has excellent positional awareness and is strong in the tackle – a fact Burnley’s David Nugent can attest to, having been denied by a superb last-ditch challenge in the final game of the season. Whilst not blessed with raw speed, King possesses a decent turn of pace. When he is occasionally caught out by an opposition player’s fleetness, his excellent positioning and reading of the game more than compensate for any shortcomings in this regard.
The centre back would also bring tournament experience to the side, having made the Euro 2004 squad and featured in the group games against France and Croatia. In the former, he marked an in-form Thierry Henry out of the game and in the latter, demonstrated his versatility when lining up in a holding midfield role. Injury precluded him from securing a place in the 2006 World Cup squad and building upon this promising showing and the caveat regarding his fitness remains the major doubt over his selection. It is also worth noting that, during his recent impressive displays, Spurs faced a tough run of fixtures, for which they adopted a relatively defensive approach. This aided King’s cause no end, as Arsenal and Manchester City’s attacks were successfully funnelled into the centre of defence as they failed to penetrate down the flanks. Also when engaged one-on-one by skilful dribblers he has been found wanting on occasion, with Robin van Persie and Carlos Tevez enjoying some success against him.
The strength of the Terry-Ferdinand partnership, coupled with King’s susceptibility to injury has limited his opportunities in an England shirt. Now, the formerly rock-solid partnership is in doubt with allegations regarding Terry’s personal life appearing to coincide with a dip in form. Similarly, Ferdinand has continued to struggle with a back injury, which has seen the somewhat injury-prone King complete more league games than England’s captain this season. Bearing this in mind opportunity may well knock for the experienced stopper.
Perhaps the Tottenham captain is not quite the shock elevation that was first thought, bearing in mind his form and Capello’s obvious admiration for the player: “Without doubt, King is one of the best central defenders in England.” The Italian selected King in his squad to face Slovakia and Ukraine, to the consternation of his club manager Harry Redknapp. An FA spokesman assured Tottenham that: “They fully understand Ledley’s injury situation but they want to have a close look at him,” although King was unable to feature in these games due to injury and left the England camp.
In light of this, naming him in the 30-man squad may simply afford Capello the chance to examine King’s fitness and rehabilitation regime at close quarters and assess his overall condition. King may not make the final party, particularly with his defensive partner Michael Dawson in imperious form this term, but his displays and new-found consistency entitle him to at least be considered, and if he is able to prove his fitness, he would undoubtedly prove an excellent addition to England’s back line.