Ledley King: the refutation of a legend

Only a couple of weeks ago on this very blog our esteemed football correspondent, DC, pithily dismissed Christiano Ronaldo as a “myth and a charlatan”. Wise words indeed from a man whose analysis of the game is consistently sage-like.

The reason I’ve regaled you with this seemingly irrelevant is that today I wish to discuss another great footballing myth that is suddenly enveloping us, that of Ledley King, whose retirement has prompted an outpouring of unrestrained praise for a man seemingly universally regarded as one of the all-time great English central defenders. To wit:

  • “The best defender I have ever seen. Fast, classy and two footed. He will be missed.”
  • “Giant of a defender. Truly brilliant. Massive loss to the England team that he was so unfortunate with injuries. He’d have been a first choice every time.”
  • “Best defender I have ever seen play. I don’t normally go in for such things but 26 is a common or garden squad number usually, they could retire the shirt as a nice gesture. The term ‘legend’ is bandied about a little too often but I think in this instance, it applies. Ledley King – the best defender of his generation. Gutted.”
  • “Brilliant defender one of the best I’ve seen, his reading of the game was almost comical in the way a striker always thought they were in only to have the ball pinched at the last moment.”

In normal circumstances DC would be royally skewering such preposterous posturing but is currently indisposed, presumably lying next to a model after a night of coke and scintillating repartee. The man is a paragon and a raconteur.

So it has been left to yours truly to express our blog’s collective bewilderment at the cult of Ledley King.

So let’s get straight down to business. Ledley King was a reasonable defender, but nothing more. The idea that he was one of the greats is simply ridiculous. I simply don’t remember him producing the world-beating performances that are currently being recalled by many commenters and journalists. I don’t remember it because it didn’t happen.

A more apt description of the man would be solid, uninspiring and ultimately found out of his depth in the face of real class, like so many modern English players, and playing in a Tottenham team that was at times absolutely desperate. Spurs’ ascent towards the upper reaches of the Premier League dovetails pretty neatly with King’s drawn-out retirement, which is a complete coincidence I’m sure.

He was certainly inferior to the horribly unlucky Jonathan Woodgate (who despite his seemingly endless array of injuries secured a move to Real Madrid, the kind of transfer never on the cards for King even when he was fully fit and at his ‘peak’) and to suggest that he should be bracketed with Paul McGrath, a central defender of greater talent than anyone currently playing their trade in the Premier League, is frankly obscene. King and McGrath both had dodgy knees. The similarity ends there.

Much has been made of King’s injury problems and the fact that he deprived him of the opportunity to fulfil his full potential. And clearly his gammy knees have curtailed his professional career. But he developed those problems at the age of 26. He’d had plenty of time prior to that in the Tottenham first team to show how great he was. It didn’t happen and to suggest it did is historical revisionism on a truly epic scale.

The explanation for the cult of King is quite simple: he played for a London club, and one that are media darlings to boot. Despite not accomplishing anything of real note in a couple of generations, and certainly nothing when King was an integral part of the team, Spurs are a central part of the game’s national discourse, and that is simply because of their geographical location.

A simple question is begged at this point: would we be having to endure this unwarranted lionisation if King had played for Sunderland or Newcastle, clubs with a similar (if not greater) support base than Spurs? Of fucking course not.

The myopia of the sheep-like London football commentariat and their hangers-on, normally to be found lurking underneath any of the journalistically lazy, self-indulgent, back-slapping articles penned by their gurus (step forward the Telegraph’s Henry Winter, probably the greatest arse-licker in recorded history). Complete mediocrities are celebrated and driven into the England set-up by the force of will of the London football media. Other players of far greater accomplishment are disregarded unless or until they move to one of the fashionable metropolitan clubs.

To sum up, this bullshit-fest is happening right now because King is a cockney, and the collective swallowing of it illustrates vividly just how superficial many people’s understanding of the beautiful game is, along with their desire to follow the herd.

Doubly insulting is the likelihood of King now taking on an ambassadorial role for Spurs. I was under the impression that jobs like that were reserved for men and women whose conduct and loyalty had been unrelentingly exemplary. Of course King was a ‘one-club man’, although the significance of that is traditionally horribly over-stated, but exemplary? Take a read through this and let me know if ‘exemplary’ is the word on your mind. This passage in particular stands out:

After being barred because staff said he was too drunk to stand, he reportedly said, ‘Do you not know who I am?’ before allegedly assaulting the 22-year-old security guard.  Mr Butt claimed 28-year-old King taunted him over his salary, saying: ‘I’m a rich guy, I earn £80,000 a week – you earn £10 an hour.

‘I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m a big star. You, you’re nothing on your £10-an-hour job.’

The doorman said he was then punched in the face. His colleagues grabbed the defender in a headlock and forcing him to the floor.

He claimed: ‘We refused him to come inside because he was so drunk, and he just started calling us different names, and he just started saying to me racist comments.

‘He started calling me Paki. He was saying to me I’m a fag, I’m earning less than him, he’s a rich guy, so he got nothing to lose.

A true gent, Ledley. Modest, humble and a great example to all.

And I don’t know why, but ‘racist’ ‘egomaniacal’ and ‘dickead’ are the words on my mind, for some reason. Racially abusing, assaulting and rubbing one’s wealth in the face of someone simply trying to do their job is hardly the hallmark of an ambassador……..

One can only hope that after a period of reflection the fools currently waxing lyrical over this second-rater will realise their folly. King is over-rated as a footballer, and over-rated as a man.

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