In most teams there is a figure who provides leadership, a calming influence or inspiration. For Tottenham Hotspur, Ledley King does all three. His absence has been keenly felt by the club no matter which international Harry Redknapp brings in to replace him in the centre of the defence. King's attributes should earn him a place in England's World Cup finals squad if he is fit, according to his club manager.
Which is why Redknapp is expected to risk his captain against Arsenal tonight for a game as crucial as any his side have played this season. King has not played since February, with a thigh injury adding to the chronic knee problem that means he can barely train before games and rarely plays two matches in a week. He missed Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Portsmouth with the visit of Arsenal in mind.
The prospect of Robin van Persie returning to the Gunners side and the suspension of Wilson Palacios, a defensive midfield shield for Spurs, has meant Redknapp needs his King for a day. Peter Crouch, the Spurs striker, knows what a lift it will be to have King back in the side. "To me, Ledley's top class," he told reporters last week. "I've known him and played with him since I was 12. I was here as a kid and Ledley was in my youth team so I know how good he is.
"When he's fit and playing every week, which is very difficult to do, he's right up there with the best. He's got everything really." King has played just 15 games in this campaign and that demonstrates the strength at Spurs as they have challenged for the top four in the league and reached the FA Cup semi-finals and last eight of the Carling Cup. Crouch, who helped Liverpool to the Champions League final in 2007, feels this squad is good enough to take on Europe's best.
"I do, without a doubt," he said. "When I walked in here the first day, it hadn't really hit me how good the team was. The first training session, the standard was frightening. Much the same as at Liverpool." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org