Ledley King went down with a groin strain in the 30th minute of Tottenham’s draw with Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Sunday. Leading 1-0, Spurs conspired to blow two leads after King’s departure. King is no stranger to the physio room and has been beset by injury problems ever since the 2004-05 season: the only one of his career in which he started every game in the league. Since then, the overall failure of his knees, coupled with a list of injuries related to his inability to train properly, has seen him miss 129 out of Spurs last 235 league matches. He’s only played 106 games in the league since Martin Jol’s first full season in charge of Spurs. Yet, while playing only 45% of the club’s league matches during the past 6+ campaigns, the club has won 53% of its points total in the matches in which King has played.
With him, they have went 56-25-25 (WDL) since August 2005. Without him, they have struggled to 45-39-45. That is 11 less wins, 14 more draws and 20 more losses without their captain during that time span. It’s no wonder Harry sees him as the most important player on the team. It is why Redknapp is forced to risk playing the oft-injured stalwart. And it’s the reason why the club can’t seem to move past his reign.
It’s not often we see defenders of King’s caliber. It is often forgotten, due to the injuries, that King is one of the best defenders England has produced in Premier League era. He has the elusive combination of speed, intelligence, reading and disposition that distinguishes the near greats from the world class. He organizes that back line effectively, never panics and rarely makes a mistake. And when he does, this happens.
He’s great with his feet and as good in the air. He’s big enough to dominate bruisers and quick enough to negate speedsters. In fact, Ledley King’s only weakness is the pair of legs that grant him such brilliance. Were he healthy, we would speak of him as a peer to Vidic, Lucio and Pique.
It is often demanded by some Spurs supporters that his time has passed and it’s time for the club to move on. After all, he’s 31 with dodgy knees and, on his best day, just between injuries. Yet, he’s impossible to replace. One thing most supporters recognize is that had he been blessed with health that equals his talent, that there is no way he would have stayed at Tottenham. He was meant for the biggest stage, and would have easily found his way to one of Real Madrid or Manchester United if he hadn’t been so damaged. So while a bane, his knees have gifted the White Hart Lane faithful a long-term relationship with a defender of the likes they haven’t seen since Gary Mabbutt. He is mentioned in the same breath as Dave Mackay and Mike England, and deservedly so. So how is it that the club can hope to casually replace one the best defenders to play for it EVER?
Even if Spurs cannot equal his talent, can’t they just find a decent pairing and move forward? Well the numbers say that it’s not that easy. Especially for a club trying to return to the Champions League.
When you look at the numbers since the beginning of 05-06 season, King’s presence within the team has meant more in terms of points per game (PPG) in each season except 2009-10, when the difference was .1 PPG better without him. His inclusion within the team during this span has meant .45 more points per game than his absence. And just in case you don’t quite understand how massive .45 PPG is, here’s a table to show the difference.
|2010-2011||1.53||2.17||75||62||5th to 2nd|
|2009-2010||1.89||1.8||68||70||4th to 4th|
|2008-2009||0.93||1.58||60||51||8th to 7th|
|2007-2008||1.15||1.75||67||46||11th to 5th|
|2006-2007||1.29||1.81||69||60||5th to 3rd|
|2005-2006||1.42||1.85||70||65||5th to 4th|
Table index: Year, PPG w/out King, PPG with King, Adjusted Points, Actual Points, Change
If we look at each season and apply his PPG to get a total for the season, we see some drastic change. Since his last healthy campaign, the only troublesome spot is the 2009-10 season where Spurs actually made 4th. If he had played all games, Spurs would have tallied .09 PPG less, but would have ended on just two less points and still have nipped City for 4th. Whereas in the other 5 years, Spurs would have finished better. But we’re not talking about a mid-table side. Spurs have been on the brink of the top four many times since Jol’s first full season. If King had been healthy, and we suppose that the PPG would have stayed consistent, Spurs would have broken into the top four back in the Lasagna-gate year. In 2006-07, they would have moved up to 3rd. In the 2007-08 season, the post-Cup hangover, which coincided with a King injury, his PPG would have helped Spurs stay in the top 5. And last year, when they lost the Champions League spot in the second half, they would have come in second place*.
If we look at this in the most simplistic terms, King’s knees have cost Martin Jol, Juande Ramos and Damien Comolli their jobs. Granted this is a very simplistic look at the effect of Ledley King. It overlooks brilliant performances and grants Spurs points against Manchester United, which wouldn’t have been earned with 11 Ledley King’s who could all shoot lasers from their eyes. But it isn’t without value, and rightly shows that Spurs would have never flirted with relegation and would have entered the Champions League as early as 05-06 and the differences these two events would have made into player recruitment, and could have made Tottenham a major force in the league over the past half-dozen years.
But, his knees are as dodgy as a script by Roger Corman, and we have to live with what-ifs. But it does beg the question, how does a team with Tottenham’s wage structure and transfer budget afford any player that is worth 17 points over a season? So you can see why Levy and Redknapp are loathe to shut the book on this great’s career. Ten games with Ledley is better than 38 with the type of players Spurs can afford.
Here’s to his health. Long live the King!
* I used 1.53 + .45 rather than 2.17 to adjust points