By Jay Jaffa
Neil Young once sang “the King is dead but he's not forgotten” and although the lyric doesn't quite hold true (Ledley King is very much alive and well) the sentiment seems apt as we discuss a Tottenham team only just getting to grips with his retirement.
He was revered by the supporters for his 13 years of service on the pitch and although he now occupies a behind-the-scenes ambassadorial role, King's association with the club remains as strong as ever.
And yet, you wouldn't know from speaking to King that you are in conversation with a bona fide Tottenham legend, such is the ease in which he delivers his views on the club he played for until last summer. Now, as much as in his playing career, King is very much focused on the task in hand and as such his view of events at White Hart Lane are considered and to the point.
As well as his retirement, Spurs sold Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart, as well as parting ways with Harry Redknapp, the manager who guided the club to two top four finishes in three years. Yet, King has confidence in the ability of Andre Villas-Boas, explaining to Goal.com: “Obviously a lot of people read into what happened at Chelsea without really knowing what was happening there, instead looking at what you read in the papers, news and media.
“It was important the fans gave him a chance to show what he could do. He's a great young manager, passionate about his football. It's what fans want to see – a manager who shows that he cares about the team. The fans have taken to him now which is great to see.”
On a personal note, King speaks warmly about the Portuguese manager, adding: “He's been great – I've had a few chats with him, he's been very helpful towards me and encouraged me to be at the training ground and be involved, and to speak to him as much as possible.”
The host of changes at White Hart Lane seemingly left a portion of fans disillusioned with the direction the club is moving, but with back-to-back Premier League wins arresting a slump of three consecutive defeats, Tottenham sit fifth, ahead of their rivals Arsenal and just three points off third place.
Although some critics maintain Tottenham's ambitions for a top four place remain unrealistic, King takes an opposite view, pointing to the gradual improvement under Villas-Boas:
“It's always going to take a bit of time with a new manager coming in. I think we're starting to show we're going to be up in the mix again as we have done the last few seasons. From the manager's point of view that's what he'll be looking at and looking to keep progressing from there.
“There are big changes but we've bought very well in the window. Young Steven Caulker has come in and filled in a hole and he's been brilliant. Initially it's going to take time for everything to click together but we have the players capable for the top four and we have the manager.”
But what of Redknapp? The man who helped nurse King through his final playing days pitched up at QPR last week with the club in similarly dire straits as he found Spurs in October 2008. King is assertive as he predicts success for the Loftus Road outfit, stating: “Harry will go in there and do a great job, because the talent is there.
“He is a great man-manager and he'll lift the the players' spirits and I've got no doubt he'll turn things around there.”
He is relaxed and engaging in conversation as we delve deeper into his views on the current Spurs squad and there is a sense that he is passing the baton to Steven Caulker as we discuss the 20-year-old's rise to first-team football. Indeed, judging the nature of King's assessment, this view has been fostered for some time.
“When he was a bit younger I trained with him a few times and had a few conversations with him on the training ground and off the pitch as well,” King explains. “He's been learning his trade in the Premier League but before that I did speak to him quite a bit because I had heard about his potential and wanted to help as much as I could. He's been brilliant this season.”
Change is the dominant theme and despite admitting he was not fully aware of Jan Vertonghen's capabilities, King is happy to lavish praise on the club's new No.5 as well as his compatriot Mousa Dembele.
|LEDLEY KING ON...
|"Great young manager and passionate about his football"
|"Caulker has come in at the back and filled in a hole and he's been brilliant"|
|"He's a great man manager and and I've got no doubt he'll turn things around"
|"Gareth's really settled at the club and he's happy"
|"Good under pressure, like Modric - can drift past people easily"
|"We have the players capable for the top four and we have the manager"
“Dembele is another great player. I played against him for Fulham and in particular last season he was very good when we played them. Again, he's settled in very quickly and become an important player for the club already.”
Speaking of important players, Modric swapped White Hart Lane for the Bernabeu this summer, leaving the club without one of their most gifted players. And although many observers scoffed at the idea of Dembele filling his boots, King is convinced Spurs have found an able replacement.
“Luka was a top-class player but we have replaced him really well with Mousa,” he confirms. “They're similar players in terms of you can give them the ball anywhere with a man on them. They are good under pressure, they can drift past people easily – Luka was like that as well – he could really dip a shoulder and beat a man. So in that aspect he's very similar to Luka. I've got no doubt he was going to fit into the way we play.”
King was present for Tottenham's narrow victory over Liverpool on Wednesday night - a game dominated by the club's current star asset Gareth Bale - and he was left similarly impressed by the form of the Welshman, stating: "Personally I think the club are delighted he's performing so well.
"With that is going to come interest from other clubs, that's part and parcel of it. But Gareth's signed a new contract recently, he's really settled at the club and he's happy. That's all we can ask for at the moment and as long as he keeps performing well, everyone's happy."
Keeping him happy may be one of the most important concerns for Villas-Boas as he aims to add a third victory in a good week as he takes his team to Fulham on Saturday, a game that King is discusses with caution. He acknowledges: “It's always been a tough place to go, Craven Cottage. They have always been tight games in a tight stadium, the crowd always get behind the team.
“But if we play well, as well as we have done away from home this season, there's no reason why we can't win. We've been probably better away from home than at home. We're set up as a dangerous counterattacking side and I think that can help us there.”
King is currently working with Under Armour and their new project Road to Glory, which offers supporter groups worldwide a chance to win a trip for five to watch the club's final game of the season against Sunderland. It is part of many duties the 32-year-old fulfils as a club ambassador and one in which he is pleased to engage with.
He “It's great that Tottenham and Under Armour work together and give the fans across the world a chance to get involved and have a bit of fun and find out who the best supporters are so to speak. It's a bit of fun and keeps the fans across the world involved.”
King may not patrol the pitch anymore, but you are left assured that this is not a man who will be forgotten anytime soon.
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Tottenham Hotspur and Under Armour are challenging Spurs fans across the world to follow “The Road to Glory” and showcase their club support and loyalty. The six-week contest to find and reward the most passionate Tottenham Hotspur supporters on the planet starts today and the grand prize winning team will receive a VIP trip to London for Tottenham Hotspur’s final match of the season against Sunderland on 19th May 2013. To join the challenge visit RoadtoGlory.UA.com.
“The Road to Glory” is a journey around the world consisting of 11 virtual challenges each inspired by a historic Spurs event or moment of fandom, designed to put Spurs fan pride and team spirit to the ultimate test. The fan group that best displays its devotion and creativity in completing these challenges will be rewarded with the grand prize.