Ninety-seven in nearly four years— that is the combined number of league appearances made by two of Tottenham Hotspur's best-paid centre-halves: Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.
After the latest injury setbacks of both players—for King complications to a knee injury which has sidelined him since October, for Woodgate a groin strain which he picked up against AC Milan this month during his first appearance in more than a year—Spurs fans must wonder just how much longer the club should keep the players on its books.
Undoubtedly, both players are commanding defenders who read games well, show composure on the ball and are dangerous from set-pieces. But the club is wasting a lot of its financial and medical resources on the duo, even if both are, as reported, on incentive-based pay-as-you-play deals, it is surely time to let younger competitors take their place.
To add to this financial burden, the appalling, drunken and racist behaviour of Ledley King last year (which saw him incarcerated for 24 hours) and the fact that neither player is known for his guiding influence on or off the pitch, should make a decision which really should not need making at all. Redknapp is reportedly contemplating an offer to King of a new deal.
Former Arsenal and Chelsea defender William Gallas has excelled in his first year at White Hart Lane and has more domestic and international experience than either player while Michael Dawson continues to show courage and dedication to his job. And while Sebastien Bassong has sounded out a possible close-season move to Paris Saint-Germain, he now seems reassured that he has an exciting future in London.
So I say "out with the old, in with the new."
There are currently five other central defenders registered as first-team players at the the club—Bassong, Michael Dawson, William Gallas, Younes Kaboul, Bongani Khumalo—as well as English youth international Steven Caulker, who is impressing at Bristol City.
Additionally, Vedran Corluka, Tom Huddlestone, Wilson Palacios and Kyle Walker—now on loan at Aston Villa—have all filled in on more than one occasion in this important position.
Although the team has shown defensive frailties on numerous occasions—not least at Blackpool last week where they lost 3-1—and must concede fewer fouls and less ground to lesser opponents, there have been enough strong individual and team defensive performances to suggest that Redknapp would not need to look for a replacement.
This manifested itself in the sterling 1-0 victory over AC Milan in the San Siro earlier this month. Despite fielding a weakened side which contained neither King nor Woodgate and which was deprived also of the presence of Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart, two of the Premier League's most talented attackers, Spurs outplayed their more experienced and glamorous Italian opponents for most of the match.
Tottenham stands to save nearly $10 million a year if they stop dreaming about a future where club captain King and former Galatico Woodgate lead Spurs to the title together. This money could be re-directed to address the team's more patent and pressing needs: a good goalkeeper and left-back to give Brazilian Heurelho Gomes and Cameroon international Benoit Assou-Ekotto more competition and a lethal forward to usurp Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Which of Tottenham's other centre-halves is most deserving of more game time next season?
Combine this saving with the lack of transfer activity in January and the eventual windfall of a prestigious Champions League campaign which should see the team to progress at least to the quarterfinal stage, and Spurs would have enough money to buy two or three of the best players on offer in their positions.
We will have to wait to see whether the club will retain the services of either King or Woodgate for next season. However, for me and many other Spurs fans, it is clear that the club's future lies firmly in placing confidence in fitter, younger players who can outfight, outpass and outplay their opponents.
Possible Tottenham team in 2011-12
Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Gallas (c), Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Modric, Huddlestone, Bale; Van der Vaart; Cavani
Subs: De Gea, Walker, Bassong, O'Hara, Sandro, Defoe, Crouch