Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spurs' Ledley King Called Up and Then Removed from England Squad. Why?

In a sensational move, Ledley King has left England's training camp two days after he was originally called up, and now will not feature in Saturday's friendly against Slovakia or in the World Cup qualifier with Ukraine on Wednesday.

The call-up came as a shock to Harry Redknapp, King's manager at Spurs, who rounded on the FA and Fabio Capello for putting in doubt not only King's season, but also that of a rejuvenated Spurs team.

King, who only played four matches last season while suffering injury, has featured as much as possible this year for Redknapp, 15 times. And his selection to the team is one of the main reasons that Spurs have rocketed up the table from last place since Redknapp took over in October.

King's playing so few matches over the last two years can be traced back to a knee injury. After suffering from repeated injuries, he had the problematic cartilage removed, and now there is no cushion between the bones in his knee and when he plays. They rub together, causing massive swelling and discomfort in the area.

Fabio Capello was perhaps unaware of the acute pain that King suffers through, hence the initial call-up. Both Spurs' medical staff and those of the England squad came to an agreement that it would be in the players best interests for him to continue his rehabilitation with his home club.

Yesterday, a furious Harry Redknapp saw King called up to the England set up and realized his star defender would most probably play a part for his country. It would have had a catastrophic effect on Spurs' season.

Said Redknapp:

"If Ledley played against Ukraine next Wednesday, there is no way he would be able to play for us the following Saturday. I explained that (to the FA), but they have gone and picked him anyway. I can’t see it myself, it’s mad. It’s pointless at best.

“Ledley came into training on Monday after the Chelsea game and his knee was badly swollen. He usually goes straight off to see the medical staff and they get to work on him. He hardly trains with us.

“He barely manages anything on a Friday the day before a game, that’s how it has to be with him."

Thankfully for the Spurs, England and Capello have come to their senses, and King has been allowed to return to the club.

The Italian maestro is believed to have wanted to see just how bad King's knee really is, as the Spurs defender is a player that he wants to bring to South Africa as cover.

Having a player of King's ability as a back-up would be a massive bonus to the England set up, and Capello is well aware of the class that the Tottenham defender would bring.

The Spurs player has had a torrid time over the past four seasons, and it is a great pity that the player who is so highly regarded within footballing circles cannot represent his country.

His current training regime sees him perform marathon swimming sessions almost every day and lift weights with muscular physiotherapist specialist Nathan Gardener.

The fact that King plays at all is testament to his great endurance and professionalism, but is mostly due to his pure love of the game.

The longest-serving player on his club is a defender of supreme ability, and the comparisons with the great Paul McGrath are not far from the mark. Blessed with pace, power, strength, and a great ability to read the game, he is unsual for a defender in that he is extremely comfortable with the ball at both feet.

All in all, the Spurs defender is the complete package when it comes to the make-up of a defender, except for his knees.

In the late 80's and early 90's, Paul McGrath defied medical advice to drag Aston Villa to within a hairs width of winning the league in 1989 without training. He was also a star of the Republic of Ireland soccer team, and his performance in the 1-0 win over Italy in the World Cup in 1994 is regarded by many as being one of the all-time great performances by a defender in any match.

Unfortunately for King, it now looks like his international career may be over at age 28. He likely will not get the chance to emulate the player he is compared with so much in the great heat of battle of a World Cup.

When Steven Gerrard was asked for an opinion of King's ability after the defender left the squad, he was only too willing to give a glowing tribute.

"Ability-wise, Ledley King is certainly good enough to be on a World Cup squad," said Gerrard. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that when the World Cup squad is picked, he is fit and available for selection."

"Ledley is obviously very highly thought of by the club and also by the country, so it is no surprise that both want him fit and both want him available. He's a fantastic player," Gerrard continued. "As an England player, I'm going to be biased and say I'm sorry to see him go home because it would have been nice to have him available for the two games.

"He's a Tottenham player and you have to respect the decision that has been made."

The best defender outside the top four is cursed by an injury that not only hampers his ability to play for his country but also stalls his club's chase on elite European competition.

Every manager who has ever been with the Spurs rates King as the best defender they have even seen, and players like Gerrard and Thierry Henry rate him as one of the league's all-time greatest players. It's a fitting tribute to a fantastic player, and Harry Redknapp does nothing but confirm this.

In speaking about King's injury, he had this to say:

"There's no cure. There's no cartilage, nothing to operate on. It's just bone on bone.

"So it's just a question of managing it. It swells up after games, and it normally takes seven days to recover. But having played on Monday night, he's had less time than usual. He rarely trains, he mostly just goes to the gym to keep himself ticking over, but not running or anything like that.

"But even if he only plays 20 games a season, he's worth having because he's so good (that) we have a much better chance of winning."

twitter / WillieGannon