The news has been a long time coming, to be honest, but it still brings a lump to the throat.
At 31 years of age Ledley King and Tottenham had little choice but to call it a day, continuing to play would have meant putting the Tottenham man’s long-term health into unnecessary jeopardy. As difficult a decision it was to make, it was the right and responsible one for the general well being of the man who is so universally admired in the footballing world.
GOD SAVE THE KING (courtesy of TFC)
Legend is a word that is often overused in football these days. Score a last minute winner? Legend. Make a goal-line clearance? Legend. Score a hat trick? Legend. Serve your club passionately, loyally and with consistent high quality performances for 14 years? The word just doesn’t suffice.
On the field he was a natural born reader of the game; capable of crushing attacks at that vital moment, of winning the crucial headers and of distributing the ball calmly- all of that at jogging pace and with consummate ease. What’s more, his style of defending was extraordinarily clean and non-cynical, a rare trait in this tainted age of football. Shown brilliantly by the fact that in all his years at Tottenham he scored more goals than he received bookings, without ever being sent off. An incredible stat, especially for a centre-back at the highest level.
The difference he made when playing in the Tottenham team would be hard to exaggerate. Mentally, he instilled confidence and his fellow defenders thrived off having him next to them. They knew that if were they to mess up, King would be there to help them out. In terms of results and performance, there was a marked improvement. When you saw his name on the team-sheet you were always instantly more confident that Spurs would do well. And it wasn’t just the fans that thought this.
Although Harry Redknapp did have the odd poignant comment to make about King, calling him “an absolute freak” on one occasion, it’s Thierry Henry’s evaluation of him that summarizes the man so well.
“The only defender who doesn’t do that [foul] and sometimes still gets the ball off my feet easily is Ledley King. He is the only guy who doesn’t hold players. He will get the ball off you without you even noticing. For me, that is a good defender. He plays without any contact yet is somehow still strong and gets the ball without doing any fouls…”
“The best defender in Europe.”
And the high praise doesn’t stop there, Martin Jol once said that he was “the best central defender I have ever seen” whilst former England boss Fabio Capello called him”one of the best central defenders in England.” And this is just a brief selection of the quotes from his fellow professionals. King was not only well-respected, he was extraordinarily well-acclaimed.
In a parallel universe, Ledley would still be playing and would continue to do so into his late 30’s. As the popular England captain, he would be nearing on 100 caps for his country. He’d also, in all likelihood, be playing for Madrid after having been sold for €30 odd million. Non-injury plagued players of his quality just don’t go unnoticed. Paradoxically then, his injury may be one of the key reasons towards him becoming such a legend for the north-London club. Who knows.
We don’t live in this parallel universe, though. We live in a world where he has been plagued with knee injuries, which have eventually got the better of him. Ever since he first had real trouble with his knee, back in the 2005/06 season, King has had to carefully monitor his playing time. He even had to give up playing football with his son in the garden at one point. His training regime was a specially designed one; generally involving only one day of training with the team with the remainder of his time being spent predominantly in the pool to ease the pressure on his knee. To go through this for a good 5 years of your career a certain amount of mental strength is necessary- he had it in abundance.
And yet despite this tragically restricting set of circumstances, circumstances that stopped him reaching the potential he should have reached- he kept putting the performances in. When the club called on him in the February of this year to delay his surgery because the team simply needed him, he obliged, even though it meant risking further injury. Whenever Spurs were up against top opposition, King would be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he was the stalwart at the back. If the defense needed shoring up, King was always the perfect solution.
Off the field Ledley King was, and will continue to be, a fine ambassador for the sport. Often to be seen at community events or just simply having a chat with fans, the recently retired Tottenham centre-back knocks back the money-grabbing, arrogant stereotype of the modern footballer. Despite his weakness for a drink every now and then, he really was a credit to Tottenham Hotspur the club, to Tottenham the community and to the sport as a whole.
Ledley is a wonderful role model to fans and the development squad alike- he should thrive in his newly aquired “wide-ranging Ambassadorial role”, and will hopefully have the chance to share some of his invaluable footballing wisdom with the younger players as well. The club is obliged to keep him involved in whatever way he wants to be, if anyone has earned it, then he has.
But perhaps the greatest thing about Ledley King is the fact that he is Tottenham through and through. A local lad, an academy member, a Tottenham man. You don’t spend 16 full years at a club unless you have something of a soft spot for it. And that was what made him so popular.
Ledley King spent his entire playing career at the club that he supported and grew up with as a kid. Stories like that just don’t come along every day, especially in this age of football. He loved the shirt, he loved the fans and he loved the club. This love was certainly not unrequited.
“I have been here since I was a boy, I have always considered it my Club and found it hard to imagine wearing the shirt of another team.”
As a player, in many ways, he epitomizes Tottenham. He oozes class, he goes about playing football the right way and he’s generally well respected- only problem being that he can never put in the performances consistently enough. In his case, due to injuries. In Tottenham’s case, due to, well… being Tottenham.
Spurs have only ever had two “one club men” in their footballing history. One of them is Bill Nicholson. The other, fittingly, is Ledley King. It’s an honour to have him as our longest serving player and we are truly lucky to have witnessed such a legend at the club. Long live the King!