The third player to fall under the To the Lane and Back spotlight belongs to club captain, and fan favourite, Ledley King.
King has epitomised Tottenham Hotspur since he joined as a trainee in 1997 before making his debut for the first team in the 3-2 defeat to Liverpool in 1999, George Graham the man to hand him his first start.
Initially utilised in the centre of midfield, it is in this position that King begun to make a name for himself and in 2000, he scored the Premier League’s fastest goal in it’s illustrious history, scoring after just 9.7 seconds in the 3-3 draw with Bradford City.
However, it wasn’t until Glenn Hoddle took charge of Spurs that the now 30-year-old started to really raise eyebrows across the country after the former White Hart Lane great moved him back to centre-back following the departure of Sol Campbell to North London rivals Arsenal.
King was receiving a number of plaudits for his outstanding ability and excellent ability to read the game and by the end of the 01/02 season, the Stepney born centre-half had made his first senior international appearance for England with many seeing King as the countries finest young defender.
Following Hoddle’s sacking in 2003, caretaker manager David Pleat bumped King back up to centre-midfield before a major revamp of the club in 2004 saw King re-instated at centre-back and while Jaques Santini left the club after only a few weeks at the helm, replacement Martin Jol was all but convinced of the defenders ability in the back-four, pairing him with the experienced Noureddine Naybet before being made captain in 2005, following the departure of Jamie Redknapp.
A major accolade King received back in 2004 was the September Player of the Month award, the first defender in three-years to win the prestigious award. His presence in the back-four proved to be more important than many ever expected and it showed in the 05/06 season when Spurs came one dodgy lasagne away from Champions League football, King playing all but the final four Premier League games of the season after breaking his metatarsal in which Spurs took just four points from a possible twelve meaning they finish fifth, two points behind rivals Arsenal.
The following summer proved a career defining one for King as he suffered a serious knee injury in pre-season before breaking his metatarsal once more, meaning his season never really got going until April the following year but he managed to regain fitness in time to captain Spurs in the 2-1 win over Chelsea, the clubs first in league since 1990.
King underwent surgery once more the following summer, meaning his season was again hampered by his troublesome knee but was again recalled to the first team for the 2008 League Cup final win over Chelsea, his first major honour in his career. However, his knee injuries continued to wreck havoc on his career and only featured sporadically the next two seasons.
Without being able to feature in every game, Juande Ramos and Harry Redknapp both had to prioritise which games King played with the defender unable to train in between fixtures and it wasn’t until 2008 that King finally his 200th appearance for the club in the 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers.
From that point, it had often been an uphill struggle for King. Redknapp labelled him a ‘freak’ due to his lack of training in the week leading up to a fixture before playing brilliantly for 90 minutes, only to do it all again the next week, injuries permitting. But, it is this lack of training that is beginning to catch up on the 30-year-old. Last year, it was a serious groin problem that kept him sidelined for five months, how long until a similar problem happens again?
Redknapp even challenged King to complete 20 games this season, or risk not having his contract renewed. However, the centre-back seems confident that he can fulfil the quota this season, and has already played four of those games without any major set-back, touch wood.
Many believe his career is coming to a close, and while it would be nice to see a centre-back pairing forge a partnership in the long-term, when King is available, he simply has to play. He brings with him an aura of stability to the back four and the midfield and goalkeeper are much more confident when he leads the team out.
Jol even labelled King the best centre-back he has ever seen and it’s a massive shame that he never got his real opportunity to perform on a grander stage, Manu believing he would be a sure starter for England had he not had his troublesome knees.
So while he may not be around forever, when he is fit King simply has to play, no two ways about it. It is no coincidence that the last four games he has played, Spurs have won all four and conceded just two, while before he made his first appearance of the season against Wolves, Spurs had lost two and conceded eight. The stats say it all; King is a sure starter when available.