King’s fit to reign through the pain for England
It is one of the small details of the very complex problems that Ledley King has with his knees that he is unable to join his five-year-old son for a kickabout.
He is the footballer who does not train, has missed large swathes of games through injury and despite being one of the most talented defenders of his generation, is only now playing in his first World Cup finals.
But, at the age of 29, the Tottenham Hotspur captain now bears, in large part, the hopes of the England team on his broad shoulders. The saddest sight of yesterday was Rio Ferdinand coming down to watch training on his crutches and no one is better placed to understand Ferdinand's plight than King. For once though, King is not the injury story of the week. Instead, he is the rescue act.
The Spurs man is the favourite to step into Ferdinand's position in today's friendly against the Platinum Stars, the North West province's South Africa Absa Premiership team and then on Saturday in England's first group game against the United States. Today is three years since he last partnered John Terry in the middle of England's defence against Estonia in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
The two defenders, who played together as kids at the famous Senrab boys' club in Wanstead have started together in the centre of defence for England only five times and naturally there are concerns about King's readiness.
“What I can guarantee is that I will give 100 per cent and I'm ready to play if needs be,” he said yesterday. “I feel I can perform at the highest level.
“I don't necessarily enjoy the work I have to do in the gym, but as a professional I have to do that to be able to play matches and I love football. That is what has kept me going.
“It would be a dream to play at a World Cup, I am here as part of the 23, just the same as every player, working hard to prove I can be part of a winning team.”
The work in question is very different and means King is unable to train with the rest of his team-mates other than during warm-ups. At Tottenham, this is an accepted part of their captain's regime, but having never been part of one of Capello's squads before now, there was some trepidation on King's part as to how his manager would accept this unusual arrangement.
King said: “It's difficult for him and me coming into this situation, but I couldn't have asked for more. He's been brilliant. It's just a different situation. Before the squad met up I had not been involved with England (under Capello) and they've not seen how I work, but the manager has been brilliant.
“He has told me to do what I would normally do. I've had chats with him and asked when he wanted me on the pitch, if there were certain days he needed me other than the day before a game.”
King has little to no cartilage in his left knee, which means that, as Harry Redknapp is fond of saying, it swells like a balloon after the exertions of a game. He had a major operation on it after those England games he played three summers ago and the best he can say about it now is that the problem is not getting any worse. His outrageously bad luck meant he missed the last World Cup because of a broken metatarsal.
“You are a long time retired, so you might as well do everything you can now,” King said. “That's the way I look at it. A footballer's career is short and I'm trying to get as much out of it as I can. No player really knows when their time is going to end.
“My knee is something that affects me every day, even in the summer. It's part of my body, it's something I have to deal with. Every time I get up and walk, there are restrictions with it. I can't stretch my knee up to stretch my groin.
“My son loves football and there are plenty of times when he's trying to get me out in the garden or in the park to play and it can be
tough. I think he's heard enough about my knee to know there's some kind of a problem. As a kid you can't really understand it, but it's something he's heard over the last few years. It's difficult as a dad to say you can't play.”
As for his partnership with Terry, King says he knows enough about the Chelsea man to be confident they can play together.
“Communication is key for defenders. He's a big talker and I will talk and I'm sure we'll be fine. I've seen enough of John and know him well enough,” said King.
“John Terry is a top-class centre-half. We played for Senrab together. He was a midfielder then and he used to shout at us even back then. He was only a small kid, a lot shorter than now, but he had great leadership qualities. He played in front of me and I think he was the captain. Paul Konchesky and Bobby Zamora were in that team.
“John was the same in midfield as he is at the back really. He was courageous, throwing himself about, doing things that us young lads hadn't really seen before.”
In the search for parallel careers to his own, King cites Paul McGrath, the Manchester United and Aston Villa defender who suffered similarly debilitating knee problems and rarely trained. He says that he has read McGrath's confessional memoir, Back from the Brink, although the Irish international had more problems than just his knees. Apart from a well-publicised contretemps with a Soho doorman, King has managed to keep the demons at bay.
King played at Euro 2004 against France, but had to return home on the morning of the game against Portugal for the birth of his son Coby, who came nine weeks premature. This is a man who has had more than one unexpected obstacle thrown into his path and who is hoping that this time around nothing will prevent him from at last playing at a World Cup finals.