It is the curse of the Sunday League footballer. A training session on a Tuesday followed by ninety minutes on a Sunday morning, followed by three or four week days of staggering round an office: “hammy’s a bit tight”, “back’s giving me a bit of jip”, “oh god I’m stiff”.
It is a simplistic comparison, but essentially equates to the situation that now faces Ledley King. On Saturday, after King was forced off before half-time against Fulham, another groin injury in a now predictable list. Harry Redknapp made the following comment:
The problem he has, he doesn’t train, and when you don’t train, you pick up injuries.
It’s such a shame for him; he’s such a great player.
If I go out and start trying to sprint up that pitch now without training, I’m going to go and tear a hamstring, or do a groin, or do a calf or something.
And that’s his problem; he can’t train. He’s been doing that for several years. But I think, now, he’s picking up one or two more injuries.
So is this the beginning of the end for Ledley at the highest level?
King’s problems started to accumulate in 2006 with knee injuries and two broken metatarsals. Before the start of the 2007/8 season the defender required surgery on the knee problem that he had suffered during the previous campaign, meaning he missed the start of Tottenham’s season. These difficulties only became exacerbated, and by the time the club had rested King in April, his season was over after only four Premier League games.
After such a period of struggle, it became evident that Ledley’s knees could not deal with the rigours of playing in every game. After taking over from Juande Ramos, Harry Redknapp approached the issue :
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 we have a much better chance of winning.
No one would question the defender’s talent. He has played 21 times for England, and was chosen by The Times as Tottenham’s 25th best player of all time. When fit he is undoubtedly still one of England’s best defenders. Unfortunately for King, whilst injuries will heal, he is not getting any younger. This week he turned the wrong side of thirty. He has played just 68 Premier League games out of a possible 152 in the last four seasons.
One suspects that the main issue that Ledley now has is that there is no problem with this his extraordinary training procedure whilst both club and country are successful. However, as soon as things begin to turn, King is an easy target.
King was picked for England’s World Cup squad. After Rio Ferdinand’s training injury ruled him out of the tournament, Ledley was the go-to man for Fabio Capello. But King only lasted one half against USA, with a groin injury meaning his tournament was over. King’s physical unreliability had been highlighted on the greatest international stage, and England were left crucially short.
Domestically, the issue has also become more pointed. This season Spurs have been forced to use thirteen different centre-back pairings. It is clear that manager’s rely on consistent partnerships to increase understanding and communication. So how much can Harry take?
Jonathan Woodgate has already paid the price for his injuries by being forced out of Harry Redknapp’s plans. In charge of a club that will be hoping for regular Champions League football, and therefore consistently playing two games a week, could Redknapp be blamed for giving King the same treatment?