In my review of last weekend’s draw with Chelsea, I said that Tottenham’s central defender, Jan Vertonghen, should not have allowed Fernando Torres’ actions to unsettled him in the second half and suggested that Ledley King wouldn’t have reacted in that way. In his recently released book, King, Ledley outlines how he dealt with such situations.Ledley King was the master at the heart of the Tottenham defence until injury finally took its toll forcing him into an early retirement just over a year ago. In his time with Spurs he showed himself as a top class defender and Tottenham have been very fortunate to sign Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian international, to fill King’s boots in central defence. Jan Vertonghen is often compared to King in his style and composure on the ball but in the second half of the game against Chelsea he allowed himself to be unsettled by the actions of Torres which including scraping his nails across Vertonghen’s cheek and neck. At the time Torres was booked for a trip on Vertonghen but the officials missed the secondary attack. Torres, however, has avoided further punishment as one of the officials witnessed their coming together.
Ruffled by the Spaniard’s play, Vertonghen made a rash challenge on Ramires for which he was booked and from the free-kick, Chelsea equalised. The contest between Vertonghen and Torres had been turned into a personal battle which the Chelsea striker was determined to stoke up.
Unfortunately, Vertonghen became drawn into the feud and his play suffered as a consequence – he was rattled and didn’t react or play as we would have expected from an experienced international defender. Torres may have been sent off but his tactics in the second half paid off as he ruffled the usually composed Belgian at the heart of the Spurs defence.
How would Ledley King have dealt with such a situation? I suggested that in similar circumstances, King would not have allowed himself to become disturbed by his opponent’s play or become embroiled in the battle. He would have remained cool under pressure and responded in the best way possible by ensuring that he got the better of his opponent.
In his autobiography, King, written with Mat Snow, Ledley touches on this subject in an early chapter and how he needed to be stronger and more physical as he developed as a young professional player.
“As a kid I wasn’t the most physical player and I needed to toughen up……I probably played too nicely, but you learn some of the tricks. You can make a clean tackle but leave a little bit of physical contact behind that will make them shy away in the rest of the game……You learn these tricks and who they work against as you progress in the professional game.
…..I still had to develop the attitude to be physical when needed, but also the judgement of when not to be as well. It’s not always beneficial to be in a physical battle. There’s more to defending than battling; there’s an art.
I would play against strikers who liked to talk and pull you about, but I very, very rarely got wound up – I got stoked up. I would not lose my temper but keep the anger burning inside me, resolving that from this moment you don’t get a kick. But I never, ever saw myself as an old-school clogger. I never wanted to be horrible or to commit a foul. To me, fouling an opposing striker is a sign that a defender’s been done, outsmarted. I always wanted to stay on my feet. If you turned me, I will chase back and keep coming back at you. You may outsmart me once, but probably not twice.
These are the things I learned over the years about how to play as a centre-back.”
In the high-pressured world of Premier League football Ledley King’s words are very sound advice to any player at what ever level they play. Once I’ve finished reading Ledley King’s book, I might just pass it on to Jan Vertonghen as a reminder of how the “Master Defender” coped with similar situations. It was very much out of character for the usually calm and composed Vertonghen to allow himself to be drawn into the ‘battle’ with Torres but it’s something he’ll be anxious to avoid.