Ledley King had every attribute required to become the greatest defender in England. Injury deprived us of witnessing his full potential, but he remains a legendary figure amongst Tottenham Hotspur supporters for his countless moments of bravery, ingenuity and brilliance.
His loyalty resonated with Tottenham Hotspur devotees and his performances on the pitch exemplified his commitment to the cause. King was contrary to regular defenders of his time, due to his composure in possession and exceptional vision.
Many defenders boasted braveness and physical supremacy, but King displayed his brilliance in a far more sophisticated, intelligent and hazardless manner. He utilized his incredible ability to read the game to outwit his opponents and acted as the first line of attack by driving effective passes from inside his own half to create offensive opportunities.
Throughout his thirteen-year playing career, King was booked just eight times in 321 appearances. Thierry Henry aptly encapsulated his uniqueness by stating, “Ledley King is the only defender ever to get the better of me, without having to resort to fouling.”
This epitomizes his level of intelligence to anticipate potentialities on the pitch prior to the opposition, rather than simply focusing on the ball or player. It’s upsetting that King was forced into early retirement and was unable to showcase his talent on a more frequent basis, especially during the latter stages of his career.
King remains embedded in the framework at Tottenham Hotspur and is currently a club ambassador. The club is clearly still very close to his heart and he is still very close to the hearts of those associated with Tottenham Hotspur.
Tottenham Hotspur identified King playing for local club Tower Hamlets and he joined their youth system at 16 years of age in 1996. His ability of distributing the ball into the attack and his reading of the game was recognised from a young age and incited comparisons to England World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore.
He gradually progressed through the youth system and made his first team debut in a 3-2 defeat against Liverpool at Anfield in May 1999. George Graham played him as a central midfielder during his primitive years and King subsequently cemented a starting role at White Hart Lane.
Chelsea displayed an interest in bringing Ledley King to Stamford Bridge, but reports revealed he rejected an offer to join The Blues. He made history by scoring the quickest goal in Premier League history when he broke the deadlock after just 10 seconds during a 3-3 draw against Bradford City in December 2000.
Sol Campbell controversially left White Hart Lane for fierce local rivals Arsenal in 2001 and Glen Hoddle opted to deploy King in the centre of defence rather than browse the transfer market for a costly replacement.
His transition from midfield to defence was extraordinary. He effortlessly slotted into the defence and completed more than 40 appearances in a single season for the first time in his career.
King went onto become an integral member of the team during the early-2000s and scored eight goals in 109 appearances between 2003 and 2006. He was given his international debut in 2002 and represented the England National Team at Euro 2004.
The Beginning of the End
He’d achieved a substantial amount in the premature stages of his career, but little did he know that an injury prior to the 2006/07 season would permanently damage his career. King had just been ruled out of the 2006 World Cup after fracturing a bone in his foot and his injury issues were exacerbated in pre-season as he sustained a seemingly short-term knee injury.
The list of injuries increased during the 2006/07 season and King was only able to participate in 27 of their 59 matches. Juande Ramos recognised King was incapable of playing every fixture and utilized his talent in the League Cup. This was an uplifting experience for him and he repaid the club for their faith by helping guide them to the League Cup final at the new Wembley Stadium in 2008.
Tottenham Hotspur defeated London rivals Chelsea with King captaining them to the first piece of silverware of his career and Spurs’ first trophy since 1999. He was rested for the remainder of the season just weeks later, but Harry Redknapp succeeded Ramos just a matter of months into the 2008/09 season and prioritized the Premier League over cup fixtures.
Therefore, King appeared on a frequent basis and played 29 matches in the Premier League. Redknapp revealed that King was unable to train and was playing without practising during the week.
This epitomized his determination and his importance to the team. Spurs reached yet another League Cup final in 2009, but Manchester United emerged victorious via a penalty shoot-out.
One Final Hoorah
His career was dwindling towards a tragic conclusion, but King remained resilient to prolong his playing career. Redknapp continued to feature him in the Premier League and he was able to play a crucial role in guiding Tottenham to qualification for the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League.
Fabio Capello was encaptivated by the Englishman and recalled him into the England squad ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals. King was included in the starting line-up for the opening group fixture against USA, but was substituted just 45 minutes into the match after sustaining a groin injury, which subsequently ended his tournament and his international career.
King was beginning to struggle to maintain his fitness and appeared on a mere nine occasions during the 2010/11 season. The clock was ticking and after squeezing 21 appearances into the 2011/12 season, King gave into his chronic knee injury and reluctantly announced his retirement from professional football.
It was a tragic end to what promised to be a stellar career, but King cemented legendary status during his 13-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Martin Jol described him as the best defender he’s ever coached and Fabio Capello pronounced he was “one of the best defenders in England.”
If injuries didn’t halt his progress, I truly believe that Ledley King would have gone onto oust either John Terry or Rio Ferdinand from the England team. His ability was incredible, but sadly injury proved to be his kryptonite.