king of the castle

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Volume 2 Issue 36 - February 2004

Ledley King's position in the team has changed almost as often as Tottenham have changed managers over the last few years.  So what is the future for our young defender-cum-midfielder ??  Jacques Hattie looks at how Ledders might be best employed as Spurs try to press onward and upward.

When Ledley King entered the team at right back, he looked as though he was a natural defender.  Deceptive in terms of his pace, but certainly one who was quick enough to get back to recover any position that was lost.  His performance against Liverpool in that first outing at Anfield in 1998 was an impressive one that had the fans raving about a find that could, in time, erase the memory of a player who was to decamp to our local rivals.  His initial appearances were in that right back slot, but moving him into the centre of defence, Ledley could use his height and his reading of the game to their best effect. 

Ledley always looks casual on the ball, as good players do to make it look so easy and this has not ceaselessly worked in his favour.  The error in not clearing the ball in the Worthington Cup Final against Blackburn Rovers that lead to their winning goal was one example of the languid player falling to a mistake that proved very costly.  He took a lot of flak for that, but most Spurs supporters realised that he is still learning his trade.  Perhaps more was expected of him because of an early call-up to the England squad and an appearance against Italy at Elland Road.  This promotion was at the behest of Sven Goran Eriksson and a further cap was awarded after that.  However, the appearances at international level were due to others being out injured and while Ledley didnít let himself down in the white shirt of England, the recall of old favourites and new youngsters coming through have left Ledley out in the cold a bit. 

Indeed, it was a bout of flu that prevented him earning his first cap earlier and illness and injury have hampered him over the last couple of years.  Injuries restricted him to only three appearances in all of the 1999/2000 season, but he was picked to go to Slovakia, where he picked up a broken foot in the last game of competition playing for the England Under-21s in the European Championships and this left him out of action for a long period.  A series of pre-season knocks and set-backs ruled him out of the starts of 2002-03 (for three months) and 2003-04 seasons (two months), which meant he has been brought back into the side after he had done a lot of catching up to get match fit. 

His commanding and assured performances are sure to endear him to Tottenhamís crowd, but will it be at the back or in midfield ?  At the moment with cash and options limited, Ledleyís short-term future is in midfield, I would have thought.  He has shown that he has the ability to excel in the hurly-burly in the middle of the pitch and also he can manufacture a yard or two of space by neat footwork to make the ball work for him, picking out a pass to a team-mate.  He has earned the respect of the others in the team and has become a player who they know they can rely on.  King has been able to get forward to score and although he has only three goals in his career so far, one of them at Bradford City, which was his first for the club, still holds the record of the fastest in Premiership history.  He has the presence at set-pieces and the power of shot to let fly when he gets within shooting distance, so that while not a natural goal-scorer, he has the technical ability and instinct. 

In midfield, Ledley has shown that his skilful footwork can make him a player to watch.  We have seen his delicate lobbing of the ball over opponents heads and the accuracy of his passes that open up space for his colleagues and it is this talent that sets him apart from some of the other midfielders we have.  The only thing that he lacks is the facility to crunch into tackles to frighten the other sideís midfielders into thinking twice about going in to a 50-50 tackle with the Spurs man.  If he adds this to his armoury of skills, he will be up there in the same league as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.  But then like all areas of the team, it is about getting the blend right and there can be no doubt that Ledley will be a part of that blend.  Alongside the industrious and ball-dribbling addition of Rohan Ricketts, they can contrast and complement each other to provide a useful partnership.  With Simon Davies in the mix too and another from a number of squad midfielders (not Toda, obviously), the battleground of the pitch could look slanted in our favour.

Long term, he may well revert to his defensive berth.  Dean Richards is not going to go on forever.  With David Pleat hinting that when older players contracts are at an end, they will be allowed to go and younger more athletic Spurs will be drafted in.  Richards lacks pace and his pairing with Anthony Gardner is fine at the moment, with the younger partner providing the legs to the older manís experience.  However, when Richards finally leaves the scene, it is the logical move to put Ledley back in central defence alongside Gardner and they complement each other very well.  The move back will depend on the ability of the club to recruit a tough tackling, ball-winning midfielder to take Leddersí place in that part of the team.   

King had looked ill-at-ease in the 3-5-2 formation that Glenn Hoddle favoured and although he was nominally one of the back three, he was more or less used as a right or left back, a position where he can get isolated one-on-one and with a winger running directly at him, he hasnít got the security of someone alongside him.  Therefore, if the 4-4-2 system is employed, Ledley should cope with most things that are thrown at him with Gardner at his side.  They also have the benefit of both being young and knowing that they could partner each other at Spurs (and hopefully for England) for a long time to come. 

Ledley is now an established Spurs player and can only go on to make a big career for himself, but you might ask in which position and at which club ??  If Tottenham can get European football, then the question of at which club might become of less significance, but as for where within that team, that might rely on the amount of money and the persuasive skills of the new manager come the summer of 2004.

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