Ledley King is Tottenham royalty. He rose through their youth system to play over 260 times for Spurs, in a career that spanned 16 years and saw him earn 21 England caps along the way.
Injury cut his playing days short in 2012, but King's involvement with Spurs continues. Now an ambassador for the club, he took time to answer our questions on everything from his coaching ambitions to advice he'd give to young players today.
Bleacher Report: Can you explain your current role at Spurs and the types of activities you undertake?
Ledley King: As an ambassador for Tottenham Hotspur, I work closely with the club’s foundation to help inspire achievement amongst local youngsters, some of whom have become disengaged at school and are perhaps going down the wrong path.
I’m also supporting the club’s plans to help regenerate the Tottenham area with a new stadium development progressing and creating hundreds of new jobs in an area of high unemployment. I also get the chance to engage with the club’s global fanbase, such as in America, where we have a growing number of official supporters' clubs.
The fans gave me so much support throughout my career and it’s great to spend time meeting them now.
B/R: Tell us a bit about your recent trip to Baltimore and why Spurs have decided to launch a youth initiative in America.
LK: Baltimore is the home of our technical partner, Under Armour, and with them we have created the Tottenham Hotspur America Trophy—inviting some of the best youth teams in the country to compete over a weekend and selecting the best 25 players from the tournament to train in the elite facilities we have at the club next year.
It’s a real investment into the grassroots of U.S. soccer and, who knows, perhaps we will find a future Premier League star through this tournament. Our global coaching programme works with soccer associations across the States to educate coaches and identify and nurture talent, so it’s a massive commitment on the club's behalf.
B/R: When you look back on your first steps into football, can you pinpoint a particular break or moment that made everything else possible?
LK: It was when my friend’s Dad first took me training at the age of around nine. I was playing for my local Sunday team, Senrab, and started training with Leyton Orient before joining Tottenham at the age of 14. But without my friend and his Dad being able to take me training in the first place, I might never have been given that platform I needed to start my career.
B/R: What do you think of the current FA coaching and development system for young players? Are we doing enough to ensure a generation of talented players comes through?
LK: At the moment, I am in the early stages of doing my coaching badges, so I cannot comment too much on the FA’s system. What I can say is, here at Tottenham Hotspur, there are many talented youngsters coming through the system and, as we have seen in recent years with the likes of Steven Caulker, Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend, the opportunity to break through the ranks at the club is there if you take your opportunities.
B/R: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring 11-year-old who wants to play in the Premier League one day, what would it be?
LK: At that age, I would say to just enjoy the game. Play it as much as you can and live for it. Listen to your coaches and always look to improve. At that age, it’s difficult to know whether or not you will play for a living in the future, but as long as you enjoy football, there is every chance you could end up making a career for yourself in the game if that’s what you decide you want to do.
B/R: Being an ambassador keeps you close to the game. Do you have any plans to move into coaching? What about media work?
LK: As I say, I’m in the early stages of doing my coaching badges at the moment. I am lucky to be able to use the world-class facilities at Tottenham Hotspur and work with the club’s academy, but it’s still a case of starting at the bottom and finding out about myself as a coach at this stage.
If I enjoy it, there is no reason why I won’t stick with it and look to progress in that field. Thankfully, my ambassadorial role has exposed me to a lot of different experiences, media work being just one of them. I’m just trying to find out what I enjoy most before looking to take that next step, but I still continue to enjoy working with the club in my current role for now.
B/R: There was a piece at Bleacher Report recently (read it here) wondering if truly great defenders were in short supply these days. Do you sense a dearth of world-class central defenders? Or would you argue that point?
LK: Yes, I would argue that point. I think we are in an age when there might be a greater emphasis on attacking flair, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic constantly grabbing the headlines.
These players make it harder for defenders to shine, but I strongly believe that any great team is built on a solid defence.
That was certainly the case for the Bayern Munich side that won the Champions League last season and, with the World Cup fast approaching, I expect to see the team that comes out on top be the one that not only poses the most threat in attack but also gives the least away at the back.
B/R: Did you deal well emotionally with having to hang up your boots? How hard is it to transition to a life without playing every week?
LK: The club has made it a lot easier than it may have been, and for that I will always be thankful. But you have to remember that I didn’t train most days, and the later years of my career were a constant struggle in the gym every day just to be fit for the weekend, so I do not miss that side of things so much and I’m no longer putting regular strain on my knee, which is good in the long-term.
However, I lived for those 90 minutes, and being out there and playing is something you can never replace. For me, it was a case of knowing when the time was right to retire, and that was when I knew I was no longer performing to the level I wanted to.
Now, this is an exciting new chapter and I’m looking forward to the future.