On the 19 July 2012, Ledley King officially retired from all forms of football. Just because you knew it was coming doesn’t soften the blow. A one club player; a rarity in an era where loyalty appears dependent on the size of the cheque, he told the Tottenham website: “I
“Sadly my injuries and inability to train have now finally brought an end to my career. I have been here since I was a boy. I have always considered it my club and have always found it hard to imagine wearing the shirt of another team.” Thankfully King will stay at Spurs taking on an ambassadorial role for the club for which he is already heavily involved with the Spurs Foundation, new stadium and other community works.
Perhaps the common perception of an English centre-back is one who rolls up their sleeves and gets stuck in. From Jack Charlton to Jamie Carragher and John Terry the picture is one where physical presence, throwing themselves in front of the ball and last ditch tackles is the norm. Very occasionally, a defender comes along who is almost the antithesis, a defender who wins the ball through the art of the well timed tackle, through positioning and ability to read the game. Bobby Moore was one. King is another.
The typical defender may win more plaudits for their last ditch heroics but the Spurs fans and fellow professionals know that King’s strength, pace, grace and composure on the pitch, with the ball and in winning it showed true defensive class, as testified by Thierry Henry in a recent interview about the toughest opponent he faced: “I would say Ledley King, and it wasn’t like he was the toughest in terms of battle. I used to have good games against him! But I have always admired the way Ledley plays because for me a defender, a very good defender, is about not fouling people and getting the ball off your feet.
“That is for me, a great defender. If you are scaring people and kicking people, then yes, that is a way, but you are scaring them more than you are taking the ball from them. Ledley was the type of player who would take the ball off of you and you wouldn’t notice. He was so clean and I always felt he was a great guy.”
King made his debut for Spurs in May 1999, at Anfield in a 3-2 defeat, coming on at left-back in the second-half after Mauricio Taricco had been sent off, his only appearance of the season. King played three matches the following season, though in the Bradford away fixture, he did manage to score the fastest goal in Premier League history – 9.7 seconds.
Establishing himself in the starting line up in the 2000-01 season the next years would be his most prolific in appearances for Spurs, during which he would make his England debut in 2002 and win call-up to the Euro 2004 squad as well as becoming Spurs captain in 2005. By the end of the 2006-07 season he had made over 190 appearances.
The injuries that went on to plague his career started at the end of the season and sadly it would not be until the October 2008 that he made his 200th appearance, though in this time, he captained Spurs to his only trophy, the 2008 Carling Cup. Chronic knee injuries meant that he would only play just over 70 more games for Spurs.
Last season seemed to hint at a renaissance, with King putting together a string of appearances. However, it became clear that the number of games and those knees were taking their toll. His last game was against QPR in April.
Were his 23 appearances a synopsis of his career? Of the 23 games Spurs won 13 and drew 4. King won only 18 tackles but that’s arguably all he had to – over 40 interceptions and 130 clearances show the true defensive art in his reading of the game. His ball-playing ability can be seen by a pass accuracy of over 90% in nearly 850 passes attempted.
Internationally, because of injuries and competition, King won just 21 caps. The regard he was held in should be seen in that his last cap came eight years after his debut, at the 2010 World Cup under Fabio Capello, who said: “Without doubt, King is one of the best central defenders in England.” The Italian knows a thing or two about defenders.
King will be missed. Not just as a player but as a captain. Inspirational not just because of his ability, not just because of his capacity to communicate and lead on the pitch, but because of his character. To play in pain, to return time and time again from career threatening injuries, to be able to play and play to such high standards without training because of those injuries, shows a strength of personality, a person who leads by example and sets a standard for those who follow.
While he will be missed, he leaves Spurs central defence in a good state. Michael Dawson is a wholehearted defender. Younes Kaboul improved enormously under King’s tutelage and Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen seem as though they will be able to carry on the ball playing defender role.
Many have said that if it wasn’t for injuries King would have been the greatest defender of his generation. For Spurs fans he was.
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