Ledley King isn’t a Tottenham Hotspur legend, nay, he is nothing short of the personification of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. No one man will ever be bigger than the club, but the relationship can evolve past the realms of mutual exclusivity. Until death does them part, Ledley King will be as much as part of the club, as the club is a part of him. In time, he will grow beyond being defined by statistics and throwaway quotes from past opposition, but will instead be spoken of with the same air of grandeur as Bill Nicholson.
In the same way that putting on the club colours broadens your shoulders, fills you with pride and a warm sense of security and belonging, seeing Ledley’s name on the team sheet had exactly the same effect. You felt more confident just knowing that he was playing, two working knee’s or one. That confidence boost can’t be underestimated, it translated on to the pitch and the players around him looked more comfortable knowing that he was there too. The rapid progression of Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul as defenders is in no small part down to having spent sustained time partnering him in the heart of our defence.
In the same way that as a club we expect to try and play attractive attacking football, Ledley pushed himself to defend in the right manner too. Some players are lauded for making last ditch challenges, goal-line clearances and chasing lost causes, but Ledley rarely ever found himself in those sorts of positions (the one memorable time he did, of course, still keeps Arjen Robben awake at night). By the time most defences would be at panic stations, Ledley had already cleanly won the ball and played it out on the deck launching another attack. As comfortable holding midfields as he was marshalling defences, as competent on the ball as he was off it; he didn’t just strive to play the game the right way, he played the Tottenham way.
Rather than separating his personal ambitions from the clubs, Ledley always talked about them as one in the same. Like every player; he wanted to win trophies, he wanted to play at the highest levels on the biggest stages, but more than anything else he wanted to do in our shirt.
In the same way that we expect loyalty from our fellow fans, we expect a similar level of respect for the shirt from our playing staff too. In a sport where business has polluted the romanticism, players value ‘career goals’ and lucrative contracts more than the badge above their heart and more legends have been dubbed than in Greco-Roman times, fiercely one-club men like Ledley King are generational at best. Rather than separating his personal ambitions from the clubs, Ledley always talked about them as one in the same. Like every player; he wanted to win trophies, he wanted to play at the highest levels on the biggest stages, but more than anything else he wanted to do in our shirt. In truth he could have retired years ago, and for the sake of his own health, maybe he should have done. But by that same token, painkilling injections what they are, who’s to say he couldn’t have played on for ten to fifteen games another season or two? He’s only 31 years old; virtually prime age for a central defender. Not a lot has been made of his admission that he would find it uncomfortable to wear the shirt of another team, but I think it’s fair to assume that Tony Pulis was drafting his pay-as-you-play contract special the day he got wind of our retained list. Lest we forget that Manchester may have fancied a word in his ear too, wages wouldn’t have been an issue for either of them, and both Mancini and Sir Alex seem to have penchant for signing injury prone players; Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves anyone? In truth, much more than just a stock statement of his desire to serve the club, his acceptance to carry on in a non-playing entity rather than seek another contract further highlights his unrivalled loyalty.
In the same way that Tottenham Hotspur are looked upon as perennial underachievers, the club of “what would have been?” and “what should have been?” Ledley King’s career sadly can’t be looked back on without the odd “if” and “but” cropping up every now and then as well. The fact of the matter is, had his knee not been injured to the point of disrepair by the time he was twenty-six, the sky would have been the limit for his career. Who knows whether offers came in for him in the past? And if they did, was it the club, or Ledley himself that refused them? Who knows given the chance, injury free, should Manchester United or Real Madrid have come calling at some stage whether he would have the loyalty to have turned them down? Up until last season had the fee been right the club wouldn’t have done, that’s for certain. To put it perfectly bluntly, the level at which he was performing at stages in his career Ledley King was too good for Tottenham. A player of his quality deserves more than one league cup winner’s medal, but I sincerely doubt that that’s an outlook in which the man himself shares, modest as he is.
But this isn’t the end for Ledley King’s involvement with Tottenham Hotspur, merely the turning of a page. He’s been at the club for seventeen years, and I’m convinced that he’ll be with us for seventeen more. I hope to live a long and fulfilling life with many decades ahead of me endure and explore, but in that time, I doubt I’ll witness as greater servant to the club than Ledley King. I’ve never felt the need or had the urge to have a player’s name on the back of my shirt before – usually my own surname and thirteen instead – but this season will see me proudly wear King twenty-six on my back like many others, in a personal homage to man. Ledley is an icon and a role model on and off the pitch, it’s been a privilege to call him one of our own for as long as we have, and it will continue to be so. For everything he’s given to the club thus far, thank you to Ledley King the player, Ledley King the captain, Ledley King the ambassador, and Ledley the King eternal. Suffice to say; as long as the club remains in his heart, he will forever remain in ours.