After Tottenham skipper Ledley King decided to hang up his boots last month after finally succumbing to the effects of a chronic knee injury, it brought into sharp focus the real dearth of one-club footballers currently plying their trade in the top flight.
The tributes rightly poured in for King, here was a player aligned to the Tottenham cause, willing to put his severely knackered knee through the wringer for the sake of the side. After barely training for the past three seasons, with only a light swimming session a few days before or after the match to nurse him by, he conjured up images of Paul McGrath during his Aston Villa pomp, another great centre-half cruelly struck down by injury throughout his career.
For the club’s fans, though, it must be both a matter of pride and immense frustration that they have had perhaps two of England’s best centre-backs over the past 20 years or so in Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, but that both have been restricted by their bodies. King retired with just 21 England caps to his name, while Woodgate won just eight and John Terry can count himself very lucky to have as many as 77 caps at present, with the opportunity to win more.
King will be remembered for his loyalty above all else, though. He’s been offered a ambassadorial role at the club for life in respect for his achievements on the pitch. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest defenders of the Premier League era, but much like with Woodgate, his career is judged on and tempered by talk of ‘what might have been’ as opposed to ‘what should have been’, and that’s always a sad way to reflect on such a talent.
When discussing the club’s greatest player of the Premier League era, King will quite rightly fight off close competition from the likes of Robbie Keane, David Ginola and Jurgen Klinsmann, however he will be best remembered for being the antithesis of Sol Campbell, the man still often dubbed ‘Judas’ for his defection across North London to bitter rivals Arsenal in 2001 – an act termed unforgivable and never to be forgotten by the White Hart Lane faithful.
King is a one-club man and for that he will always be revered, even by opposing fans of rival teams – it’s an achievement that commands respect simply because it’s all too rare these days. Manchester United fans count the likes of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes as one of their own, while Arsenal fans have Tony Adams and Liverpool the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
They become more than just players, they are symbols and the closest link between the fan in the stands and the rest of the team on the pitch. It’s as important as ever to remember those ties in tough economic circumstances such as these, with the regular punter almost always priced out of attending games as often as they would like these days as football continues to subjugate itself to the craven commercial interests that threaten to dominate the game.
The likes of Matt Le Tissier, Paolo Maldini and Francesco Totti are like throwbacks to a bygone age when loyalty could be expected in football, with Nat Lofthouse and Billy McNeil prime examples of those halycon days. It’s unrealistic to demand loyalty from every player these days, with all the money that’s floating around and with an expiration date on even the most talented of players.
The sight of Ashley Cole taking to Twitter to insult Arsenal fans with the tweet: “I am what I am!!! Winnerrr!!!! Hahahahahahah, 11 to me 0 for you!!!” in reference to how many trophies he’s won since leaving the club for Chelsea back in 2006 is only saddening because it has become the norm and it shows a distinct lack of class that’s become widespread.
Players are often judged at the end of their careers by the amount of silverware that they have won, but Ledley King retires having won just one League Cup, hardly a haul to set the pulses racing. However, John Terry (a one-club man himself it’s worth noting) already has a truly brilliant record of three league titles, five FA Cups, two League Cups and a Champions League title. Nevertheless, King represents something which isn’t quite quantifiable and he is judged on something more than just trophies.
It may be misty-eyed sentiment to an extent, and I’m not normally one to get carried away by that, but it is disheartening to see a one-club legend bow out of the game not on their own terms and before their time. Many players treat football as just a job, which is their reasoning behind moving to various clubs for money throughout their careers, but players like King are few and far between and you get the sense it meant something a lot more to them.
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