World Cup 2014: Ledley King's cautionary tale for Roy Hodgson

By Ben SmithBBC Sport
Ledley King 'guilt' at 2010 World Cup injury

As England boss Roy Hodgson prepares to name the players he thinks will serve the country well at the World Cup, he may consider gambling on the fitness of several star names.

But is it a risk worth taking?

Ledley King tells a cautionary tale.

Four years ago last week, the former Tottenham defender took a call from Fabio Capello.

The Italian wanted to include him in his England squad for the World Cup in South Africa.

"There were a few raised eyebrows when I was picked," remembers King, now 33.

A chronic knee problem meant he struggled to kick a ball around in the back garden with his son, let alone train with the first team.

But King's natural talent and calm dedication, not to mention speed, power and two-footedness, persuaded Capello he was worth the risk.

"I had been asked by Capello in the past if I would be available, but I had said 'no' because I didn't feel like I was ready," says King.

England's Ledley King (right) Michael Dawson (centre) and Stephen Warnock
Ledley King was picked by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup squad despite only making 20 Premier League appearances for Tottenham that season. He lasted just five minutes in the World Cup

"There were still a lot of questions coming into the tournament, but I felt good. I had a good run of games for Spurs."

There are other precedents.

Having dislocated a shoulder in one of England's 1986 World Cup warm-up games, Bryan Robson aggravated the injury in Mexico, then suffered a recurrence of Achilles tendon and toe injuries at Italia 90.

David Beckham fractured a metatarsal in April 2002 and, despite playing all five of England's matches at that year's World Cup, was clearly short of fitness

Wayne Rooney, too, fractured a metatarsal, six weeks before England's first game of the 2006 World Cup, but played in all but one of their matches in Germany. Four years later he looked short of his best in South Africa after ankle and groin injuries affected the end of his season.

Hodgson may well be thinking of taking a similar leap of faith as he prepares to name a 30-man squad on Monday.

In the lead-up to Brazil 2014, the fitness of Spurs right-back Kyle Walker and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere have been a source of speculation.

Sadly for King and England, Capello's gamble backfired in 2010.

King was selected to start alongside John Terry for the group game against the United States in Rustenburg, but within five minutes was injured, a groin problem ending his campaign.

"It was tough to take," he says. "At that moment, I felt I had left people down. I felt I had proved the doubters right."

At first, the Tottenham captain played through the pain, refusing to admit his World Cup was over.

What kept him on the field until half-time that day?

"Pride, if I am honest," he says. "There was nothing I could do about it. At the time, I just couldn't bear to take myself off the pitch.

"Somehow I managed to get through to half-time, but as I walked down the tunnel I knew that was the end of it.

"I had felt my groin go about a minute or so before Steven Gerrard scored our goal. I remember John Terry talking to me, asking if it was OK.

"I didn't want to look at him, I didn't want to look at the bench.

Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first leg match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and SL Benfica at White Hart Lane.
Kyle Walker has not played since suffering a pelvic injury playing against Benfica on 13 March

"They were asking me questions, but I didn't want to let them know I was injured. I just had that attitude that they were going to have to carry me off, someone is going to have to make my run, or twist, or chase them to the point where I can't do it.

"But no-one tested me, I wasn't stretched."

As he sat in the dressing room at half-time and considered the consequences, King's emotions came to the surface.

"I felt a lot of guilt," he says. "I had suffered with injuries, there were a lot of question marks coming into the tournament. I knew what people would be saying back home. All of that was running through my mind."

There are, however, no regrets.

On my journey to White Hart Lane prior to meeting King, I was asked who I was going to see.

My answer prompts a familiar reaction: "Legend... hero... love him."

In these parts, King is revered - a one-club man, captain at the age of 23 and the bedrock of Tottenham's re-emergence, having led the club to their last trophy, the 2008 League Cup, when they beat Chelsea.

He is in touch with the community and is donating the proceeds of his testimonial on Monday to four charities, including the club's Foundation Skills project.

King makes no attempt to hide the fact that he misses the game, and misses the day-to-day routine of being a footballer.

And there is a genuine excitement about leading a Spurs Legends XI out onto the White Hart Lane pitch for the final time.

"It will be very emotional," he says. "I am sure it will."

England manager Roy Hodgson looks on during the International Friendly match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on March 5, 2014 in London, England.
Roy Hodgson says he has known for some time who he will pick in his squad for the World Cup