Watching football fans watching the football
Spurs fan, blogger and FourFourTwo contributor Ben McAleer on Tottenham's most promising defensive product of a generation
Put simply, Ledley King is a Tottenham Hotspur legend. Ask any fan to name the player closest to their hearts and the Bow-born defender will be one of the first names on their lips.
Thierry Henry once labelled him the best defender he’d ever played against; Harry Redknapp described him as a ‘Rolls Royce’ player, while Martin Jol said he was a “freak” for being able to perform to such a high standard despite being prevented from training thanks to his chronic knee injury.
The 31-year-old was responsible for the quickest goal ever scored in the Premier League (the opener at Bradford City in 2000 after just 10 seconds) and one of the greatest tackles ever seen, recovering to dispossess Chelsea’s Arjen Robben in the first half of a narrow 2-1 victory in 2006.
As last season drew to a close, many of the Spurs faithful had suspected it was the beginning of the end for King, who had devoted 16 years of his life to the North London side.
Nevertheless, once the news broke in July, sadness swept N17, with supporters well aware the club had lost its most naturally gifted defender since Sol Campbell became the eighth player to cross the great divide from Spurs to Arsenal. While Campbell’s departure in 2001 was a hugely bitter one, had he stuck with Spurs, King may never have been presented with that chance to shine. A similar story may be about to develop at White Hart Lane.
Just as King did 11 years ago, 20-year-old Steven Caulker has come through the ranks at Tottenham just as the club’s most talented defender has departed.
Having cut his teeth during loan spells with Yeovil Town, Bristol City and most notably Swansea City, the young defender’s rise to prominence has been steady rather than rapid, yet he is being hotly tipped to reach the very top.
He returned to North London this summer and made his Premier League debut for Tottenham in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers.
Caulker only made his first appearance under Andre Villas-Boas in last Thursday’s Europa League draw with Lazio, but his pivotal role in the turnaround against QPR on Sunday, combined with injuries to Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, could see him feature more regularly in the coming weeks and months.
Those who saw Caulker during his early spells with Yeovil and Bristol City, where he was voted Young Player of the Year despite sitting out the final six weeks of the 2010/11 season, bore witness to a blossoming talent. The youngster has shown he has all the attributes required to fill King’s boots, although that does include missing substantial chunks of the last two seasons with knee cartilage injuries.
Away from the knee problems, Caulker boasts a similar physical stature to King, while his playing capabilities all but mirror the Spurs great. Both have adopted a continental approach to defending, opting to play the ball out from the back rather than punt it 80 yards to a big striker.
Caulker is more than comfortable with the ball at his feet as he looks to initiate attacks from the back, a talent he honed during a year-long spell with a Swansea side famed for their patient probing.
His performances with Team GB during the London Olympics turned yet more heads, and now the bandwagon is starting to creak. Telegraph columnist Henry Winter tweeted on Monday evening that “If English centre-halves were a stock market, it would be worth buying shares in Steven Caulker”.
Spurs fans have been keenly monitoring the Feltham-born stopper from a far for a couple of years now, and will have been encouraged by what they have seen at closer quarters in the last week. While he has a long way to go before hitting the same heights as King, there’s no doubting Caulker has all the tools required to be the best player to come through the youth ranks at Spurs since.
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