Ledley King: Consistent Tottenham can compete on all fronts - and make an impact in the Champions League
Former Tottenham captain Ledley King believes Mauricio Pochettino’s side have what it takes to handle the dual demands of the Premier League and Champions League – and he is backing the current crop to make the most of their return to Europe’s top table.
King was the skipper when Spurs last appeared in the Champions League in 2010-11 and a team including Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart beat the reigning champions Inter Milan and AC Milan en route to the quarter-finals.
Harry Redknapp’s outfit were unable to qualify for the following year’s competition as they finished fifth in the top flight. And, as Tottenham prepare to begin their domestic campaign at Everton on Saturday, some will question whether the current squad might suffer a similar slide in the league after last season’s third-place finish.
But King believes Pochettino will be able to keep his players competing strongly on both fronts – and he expects the Lilywhites to be make an impact in the Champions League.
“When we qualified last time emotions were high – it was the first time we had qualified for the Champions League, and we put a lot into the competition,” said
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the 35-year-old, who made 321 appearances for Spurs between 1999 and 2012.
“We reached the quarter-finals and it probably had a slight impact on some of our league performances. I think this current team is different. I don’t think the manager will allow that, and I think they’ll be able to perform on both fronts on a consistent basis, no problem.
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“We’ve seen that this is a very consistent team - which Spurs haven’t been during my time especially, and before that - and I expect them to be able to perform in the Premier League and Champions League.
“Our team at the time was very attack-minded and I think we kind of surprised a few people with that [in the Champions League], with our style of play. But this team’s a little bit more balanced, I would say.
“Teams will be aware that Tottenham are a club that’s getting bigger and bigger each year. I think this is where the team believes they should be, in the Champions League, and where they’re going to be for the next years to come. When you have that mentality, hopefully we’ll perform well.”
Pochettino remains committed to youth development at Tottenham and gave opportunities to a number of academy prospects during the pre-season programme.
There is great excitement about 17-year-old attacking midfielder Marcus Edwards, while 18-year-old centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers started the final friendly against Inter Milan, and 19-year-old Anton Walkes gained valuable experience against Atletico Madrid and Fernando Torres.
King worked with the trio during his time as a coach with Spurs’ Under-18 side, and he said: “I had the chance to see and work with them and I was very impressed with them. They were in a team that reached the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup [in 2015] and they’re very talented players.
“I always say with young boys it’s not just about their talent. They’ve got to be mentally strong and have a good head on their shoulders to get to where they want to be, and these boys are showing that they’re ready to be part of the squad.
“They’re learning a lot from the older members of the squad and they’ve performed well when they’ve got their chances. It’s great for them to be involved.
“The manager is someone who’s always keeping an eye on youth and he’s shown he’s willing to play them if they’re good enough, so they can see that it’s up to them to continue to work hard and stay in the manager’s plans, because he’ll be well aware of what they can do - and hopefully they can keep progressing over the next few years and become regulars.”
As a former centre-back himself, King is particularly well qualified to analyse the progress of Carter-Vickers and Walkes, who lined up together in defence against Atletico in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
“Anton is someone who can play numerous positions,” said King. “He can play in midfield and at right-back, so for him I just think he needs to find his position where he wants to play.
“Cameron is a centre-back and was probably the stand-out centre-back when I worked with them - but he’s going to have to continue working hard and developing because, again, there are other players there that are willing to put the work in and improve.
“It’s great for them to be involved but they will have to continue to keep improving, keep learning from being around the first team, and hopefully they will get their chance in the next few years.”
Ledley King is encouraging more Londoners to volunteer for Tottenham Hotspur’s official charity partner, Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, north London’s only hospice-at-home service for children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and their families. To find out more, visit: http://www.forpreciousmoments.com/
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs