Long live the King! Harry understands the players, he trusts us and makes us feel great
Only when you listen to Ledley King describe the hurdles he overcomes just to train with his Tottenham colleagues can you begin to understand why he feels any invitation to join England at this summer's European Championship would have to be declined.
Such an offer could well come if Harry Redknapp does end up in charge of the team, because nobody appreciates King more than the manager who regards him as his security blanket at White Hart Lane. If King is in the dressing room on match day, Redknapp sees how it lifts his players. How it gives them confidence.
'He just has this aura about him,' said Redknapp recently.
Just say no: despite still being a dominant force Ledley King would reject an England call-up
But the Spurs boss would have also witnessed the sight of King approaching with extreme caution the one training session he will attend each week the day before a game. A team-mate will send a pass in King's direction but it will not be returned in the usual manner.
'At first I might have to pick it up and throw it back because I'm not ready to kick it,' says King. 'I have to watch these muscles.'
King has never made a secret of his chronic knee condition and the poor chap must be tired of talking about it when he has so much else to say. In this interview he tackles the hot topic of Redknapp, why Manchester United remain the one English side his boss has not yet beaten at Tottenham and why he admires United's Patrice Evra for making the stand he did against racism during the Luis Suarez affair.
But this is also an interview about him and why anything he achieves as a footballer has to be viewed in the context of an injury that affects him every minute.
'I'm like an old man,' he says at one stage, and the way he struggles to walk after sitting down for an hour suggests as much.
It makes the mere fact that he continues to play at the very highest
level at 31 all the more remarkable, especially when the majority of his
training has been done in the gym and in the swimming pool for the past
five or six years.
Rock solid: Harry Redknapp regards King as his security blanket
'You can't prepare for Premier League football without training on the football pitch,' he says. 'But I guess I'm lucky. A certain amount of it is ability, some of it is luck with my genetics; the fact that I don't put on weight even when I'm not training. I still have to watch what I eat but I am lucky with my genetics.
'A lot of my game is in my head now. I realise that. My hamstring was a bit tight at the weekend but that wasn't the problem against Arsenal. You just get some games when you are not as sharp as you should be, when you are not at your best.
'If that happens you will get exposed. Arsenal was a bad defeat, one of those games when I felt I was a little bit off the pace. My job is to limit the number of times that happens. I'm always looking to make a difference. That is my mindset.
'I train my muscles hard.
Fitness-wise, I can't do too much. Being on the pitch is different. I
try to play with my head. I'm not able to run as much as I would have
five years ago. You just have to be more clever. I try to watch a lot of
football and learn about other players from watching and make myself a
better player by doing that.'
A better player for Tottenham but not, he says, for England. When Fabio
Capello asked him to go to the last World Cup, it was the first time
the Italian had called on his services. King could not say no, but he
now reflects on South Africa as a mistake.
England heartbreak: King feels going to the World Cup was wrong
'It probably wasn't the right thing to do,' he says. 'I think I'd come off a good run of games at the end of the season. I felt pretty fit. I knew it would be difficult to put my training regime into the England system but the opportunity to play in a World Cup was too big to turn down.
'For a start I'd not played under Mr Capello before. It was quite a big thing that he still wanted me to go to the World Cup, and I felt I could add something to the team. I thought he must see something in me. But in hindsight it was difficult. It doesn't really work. You need to be among the lads training. Tottenham is familiar to me, and the lads are used to it. With England you get the spirit going on the training pitch. It is on the training pitch that the team builds.
'Being segregated in the gym was
tough. It didn't really work. It's not why I got injured in the first
game, but it was difficult.
'My first reaction, if I was asked to go to the Euros, would be no. I
have to try to look after myself, and if that means getting the right
rest so I can go again the next season then that is what I would have to
'I have to make
these decisions with my head rather than my heart. Any player will tell
you it would be tough turning down the chance to play in a major
tournament, but I'd have to look at that.'
In the past he has spoken of how he is unable to even kick a ball
around the garden with his son. Does he worry about how playing with
his condition might affect him later in life
Helping out: King at a new community project at the White Hart Lane sports centre
'I hope by then that they would have found something that prevents people from having this problem,' he says.
'Maybe then I'll make a comeback.
But seriously, I'm not in excruciating pain. It's more of an
awkwardness. It gets a bit stiff if it's bent for a long time. I
certainly don't feel sorry for myself. I could have stopped playing at
26. I'm just trying to enjoy what time I have left, trying to make a
Last Sunday's 5-2 defeat at Arsenal was a chastening experience.
'We were just getting overrun,' he says. 'Even at 2-0, as Ade (Emmanuel
Adebayor) was stepping up to take the penalty, we were having a
discussion about how we could try to deal with them. They stopped us
from playing by pressing high up the pitch; it was just one of those
games. We've not had many like that this season.'
He intends to put it right on Sunday, by making a difference against United and chalking up that first victory for Redknapp.
'I don't think I've beaten them too many times in my career,' he says.
'I can tell you that when you have a good record against a team, it
gives you the belief that you can go there and get the result.
'We've had good records against teams in the past and it has helped.
Against us, I think United have got that belief. We try to play an
expansive game, it's almost like we try to match them, but they're
better at doing it. There's no real reason why it happens like it does
other than a mental one.'
Top man: King works well with Redknapp
He is not prepared to comment on the speculation regarding Redknapp and the FA but he is happy to discuss the impact the manager has had at Tottenham.
'Harry made an instant impact on the club and the players,' he says. 'That's not easy to do, but we've gone from strength to strength each year. We're in a really good position this season and it's the first time most of us have been associated with a chance of winning the League. It's been exciting.
'The manager just understands the Premier League. He understood the players needed to succeed in the League. In the past, with foreign managers coming in, I don't think they have understood just how tough the Premier League is and how much you have to compete week in, week out.
'When we had Juande Ramos, I don't think he realised how tough some of the lower teams were to play against, particularly away from home. Andre Villas-Boas has found it tough in England. Harry knows the League inside out and what players are required to get results week in, week out. He has put together a great group of players, great characters. We all get on well and he gives us the freedom to play.
'That is his great strength. He trusts the players, he makes us feel great about ourselves and we go out there and try to express that on the football pitch.'
King feels a sharp sense of loyalty to Tottenham, having spent his entire career there. On this particular day he is putting his name to an exciting new community project at the White Hart Lane sports centre, even pulling on some overalls to apply fresh paint to the walls.
'I wish there had been somewhere like this when I was growing up in east London,' he says. 'The youth are our future and this gives them the opportunity to excel in different sports, or just come here to learn and get an education. This foundation is providing those opportunities and, who knows, they might find the new Ledley King here.'
The old Ledley King has a social conscience and it brings him to the subject of racism, in particular the high-profile cases in English football this season. It is clear he has an awful lot of respect for the man expected to captain United tomorrow.
'It takes some bravery to stand up to something like racism,' he says of Evra. 'It's easier for a player to sweep it under the carpet. It's easier to ignore it. It takes a brave individual to step out and acknowledge that something is not right, not acceptable, go against the grain if you like.
'It's something that shouldn't be taken lightly and it's important to send out the message to kids today that racism is wrong. Hopefully that's the message that has come out of these recent cases. It helps people realise it's not acceptable and if people are guilty they deserve to be punished.
'I've been relatively lucky in my career. Some players haven't, but I feel there has definitely been an improvement in this country. There was an incident when I was young; not a player but fans. I'm pretty sure that today they wouldn't get away with what they did 10 or 12 years ago, so that's progress.'
No wonder Redknapp admires him as much as he does.
The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation has created 1.5million Sporting Opportunities in five years for people in the club’s local community.
Ledley King has put his name to Skills — a new education and sports programme for young people in Haringey.