Why I’d take Ledley King to South Africa

Tottenham’s victory in the North London derby was something of a shock to many who thought that the Gunners may continue their impressive record in this fixture.

While beating a Cesc Fabregas-less Arsenal at home is not the most difficult task in Premier League football, Spurs still deserve credit for such a magnificent display.

One man who among the Spurs players who deserves all the accolades that were heaped upon him after the match was Ledley King.

King’s performance was superb and Tottenham look a much better side, defensively, with him at the heart, not only making well-timed tackles but also helping organise his team mates and showing great composure on the ball. As you may be able to tell, I think he’s overrated.

King’s injury problems are well documented but for those of you who’ve never heard of the most famous Ledley in British history, allow me to give a quick summation. King has practically no cartilage in his knees which means he doesn’t train and can rarely play more than one game in a week. This season the Spurs captain has played just 15 league games- which is quite an achievement considering his problems- plus one more in the FA Cup. Manager Harry Redknapp has admitted that he thinks King will go to the World Cup, while Fabio Capello has often praised the defenders ability.

The problem with King being called up for the England squad isn’t whether he’s good enough- were he fit he’d arguably be giving John Terry and Rio Ferdinand a good run for a starting place. No the problem with the Spurs skipper is he can’t be relied upon to play several games in a tournament which is obviously something of a disadvantage when you’re talking about the World Cup.

With England’s group games spread out over an eleven day period there’s the possibility that King could play maybe the first and last one but definitely not all three. With the knockout stages taking place over a 15 day period, again there’s the chance that King could play in one or two but not all of them were England to achieve what I – and almost me alone- believe they will and make it to the final.

So allow me to put my calendar and tournament guide away and explain my point.

Firstly there’s a good chance King would not be needed to play all the group games if he were in the squad. With Ferdinand and Terry first choice unless there was an injury to either of them you would expect them to be capable of playing all three- or at least one together. If either of them were injured for one of the group games then considering the quality of opposition that England face it may be worth resting King and playing Matthew Upson, as with group games against USA Algeria and Slovenia, there’s no reason to think any half decent English defender couldn’t do a job.

That leaves the knockout games which is where I think King would be most needed. If Terry or Ferdinand were injured or more likely suspended considering FIFA officials love of all things yellow and plastic – I’m talking about cards of course, not hard hats just in case any construction workers were confused- then King could prove invaluable.

It’s not that I don’t trust England’s other substitute defenders Matthew Upson Wes Brown, or Joleon Lescott against higher quality teams is just that, okay who am I trying to kid that’s exactly the reason I would want King in the squad.

Upson is a fine defender, he’s won just as many caps as King- 19- and is a doing a competent job of leading West Ham’s defence in their quest for Premiership survival. However, call me overly-critical but I don’t believe that he’s a truly world-class defender, really capable of keeping the best players on the planet quiet, which is what will be asked of him in the latter stages of South Africa 2010.

That leads me on to the next reserve central defenders- Joleon Lescott and Wes Brown who for the sake of being more succinct I’m going to lump together. Both defenders haven’t played that many games this season -like King admittedly- and neither is guaranteed to be fit in time to make the plane.

If they both were fit, then both could be chosen simply because they can operate well in either a full back or central defender position.  Capello may feel either can do a job if needed in the latter rounds. In Brown’s case- and believe me I love Wes more than is probably healthy for a heterosexual male- when he returns from an injury he always takes a few games to get back into his stride and his first few back are often dodgy. While this may be okay against the likes of Burnley- even though it wasn’t- bringing him back into first team football against an Argentina or a Germany may just be a recipe for disaster. Also Brown, despite what Sir Alex Ferguson may believe this season- and trust me I know more than Fergie ‘cos I’ve just won the FA cup with United on Championship Manager- plays better at right back than at centre half and that’s where he would be better off for England.

As for Lescott, well ignoring his injury problems, I just don’t feel he’s good enough to play for England in a truly big game. I recall his first start against Russia a few years ago and thought he looked dodgy then and although he hasn’t really played all that many games for the national side, when he has I’ve hardly been filled with confidence. This season at Manchester City Lescott has looked good when he’s played but if he’s thrown into the England side it may be his first game back from injury and whether he’ll be able to cope is doubtful to say the least.

King of course, suffers more from injury than any player in the Premier League bar Owen Hargreaves. He may face the same problems as some of his colleagues in having to return from a lay-off and go straight into an important game but due to his history he is more equipped to do so.

The whole point I’m making is simply if it were the World Cup quarter final- usually England’s departure point- and we were up against say France and Terry’s suspended who would you prefer? The man Thierry Henry labelled ‘England’s best defender’? Or a player whose team have been in the bottom five for much of the season, a man who’s played less than ten games for England, or another who’s best position isn’t even centre back? I know which one I think is ‘King’ -ouch, sorry.

Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’