Were it not for the fragility of his knees Ledley King would have been at Wembley yesterday, training with the England squad before heading for the European Championships. Instead he appeared to be calling time on a career that should still have years to run.
The Tottenham captain, whose contract expired on Thursday, said yesterday he did not want to play for another league club, but wished to stay involved at White Hart Lane. While it is possible that could mean returning next season as a player, it is just as likely he will join the coaching staff, or be given an ambassadorial role.
The club promised he will be 'looked after' and King said Spurs had "given me several options to stay involved," adding: "Tottenham has been the only club for me and if I can't play here then I shall look to be involved in another capacity." Much will depend on his fitness at pre-season training. King, who is recuperating from another knee operation, may decide continuing to play is no longer worth the pain; manager Harry Redknapp may decide King is no longer worth a place in the 25-man Premier League squad.
Tottenham appear to have a ready-made replacement lined up with Ajax's Jan Vertonghen, who should line up for Belgium against England today, announcing at Wembley yesterday that he is close to join Spurs.
"They [Tottenham] give me a very good feeling about everything." Veronghen said. "They invited me over and they also really want to close a deal, which is what gave me a good feeling. They showed me everything about where they want to be in the next few years and that is what I like most."
King is two months older than John Terry, with whom he played at Senrab, the fabled east London boys team, before they headed to separate capital clubs. Though both established themselves in the 2000-01 season, Terry has subsequently played 537 matches for Chelsea, King 313 for Spurs. King also has 51 fewer caps and these disparities can largely be ascribed to injury.
In recent years King's knees, their cartilage tissue worn away, have been so weak he has been unable to train, keeping fit primarily through swimming at the pool of chairman Daniel Levy, and rarely playing two games in a week. If it was not his knees it was another body part. He missed the 2006 World Cup with a metatarsal injury. Four years later his involvement in the South Africa finals ended after 45 minutes' action following a groin injury.
Such was his value Redknapp was prepared to tolerate a situation in which his back four was disrupted by King's sporadic availability in order to field him in the key games. However, towards the end of last season there were signs that King's inability to train was catching up with him, notably in the home defeat to Norwich. He said: "I had a really good start to last season but a knock in training set me back towards the end. I opted to carry on playing rather than take the time out to have the knee seen to, unfortunately that meant that I didn't play the last few games at the standard I would have liked."
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