Tottenham’s Greatest Defenders
We’ve already covered the men at the extreme ends of the pitch: Previous articles have looked at the greatest strikers and the best keepers to have ever set foot on the White Hart Lane turf. Now it’s the turn of the defenders – players who should go unnoticed while those further upfield take all the glory.
Just who are the greatest defenders to have ever plied their trade at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club? Read on to see if you agree with our selections.
Pound for Pound, Graham Roberts may just have been the best signing that Spurs have ever made. In the days when scouts genuinely took an interest in Non League football, Robbo joined the club for just £35,000 in 1980.
He quickly became a permanent fixture in the heart of defence and within two years, Roberts was a double FA Cup winner. That classic image of the centre half playing on through the pain of losing teeth really sums him up: He was a folk hero at Spurs but that status can sometimes mask the fact that he was a superb player.
In 1984, he was also a true captain and he had the honour of leading Spurs to UEFA Cup glory in the absence of the suspended Steve Perryman. Graham led by example, scoring to level late on in the second leg against Anderlecht before burying his own spot kick in the penalty shootout.
That effort was one of a number of vital goals scored by the player and he even scored a hat trick against Southampton when pushed into midfield. His Tottenham journey came to an end in 1986 when he joined the English exodus north of the border to sign for Rangers.
That no-nonsense approach always led to comparisons with Dave Mackay – talking of which…
Signed by Bill Nicholson from Hearts in 1959, Dave Mackay laid down the Blueprint for Graham Roberts and many others like him. Bill secured a lot of his best signings from north of the border and Mackay would go on to join fellow Scots Bill Brown and John White in a Tottenham team that produced those Glory Glory Years of the 1960s.
Dave was a fearsome opponent and his approach to the game is summed up perfectly by a later photograph where he is holding Leeds’ Billy Bremner by the scruff of the neck. But back to the early 60s – Mackay was pivotal to the double success of 1960/61 and the FA Cup which was won the year later.
Injury forced him to miss the 1963 European Cup Winners Cup final with Atletico Madrid but he’d been influential in taking Spurs to the final and had scored in the semi against OFK Belgrade.
Dave Mackay would score a healthy 42 goals in his Tottenham career but it was his presence in defence that made him a Spurs legend. After gaining one more trophy with the FA Cup win in 1967, Dave headed to Derby and even more success in the twilight of his career.
If you hold a club record at Spurs (a positive one that is), then you must be something special. In our previous article we talked about leading goal scorer Jimmy Greaves well, now it’s time for Steve Perryman to come under the spotlight.
Perryman made 854 appearances for Tottenham over 17 long years at the club and he was still playing an influential role in his final season in 1985/86. To be fair, he didn’t always appear as a defender and it was only late on in his career that Steve was switched back from midfield. However, while it may only be a technicality, it’s enough for us to include him on this list as he was simply one of the best footballers to have played for the club.
Steve Perryman also won all six of our major honours between 1971 and 1984 and was the only man to have claimed two UEFA Cup medals while at the club. It’s difficult to know what else to say because part of his skill was the fact that you didn’t really notice him on the pitch. It’s an old footballing cliché but in the case of Steve Perryman, that is one of the highest compliments that can be paid.
Just how much would Ledley King have achieved in the game had it not been for a pair of the dodgiest knees in football? Over the years, Tottenham’s defence has been labelled comical across most seasons but Led changed all that from the moment he made his debut in May 1999.
He would stay on the books as a player for 13 years but in that time, he made just 321 appearances. He was almost an ever present in the early days but later on, he would be absent for almost an entire campaign. At one point, he couldn’t even train ahead of a game, leading to manager Harry Redknapp to label King at an ‘absolute freak’.
The word we can most associate with Ledley is calm. He would never be panicked into making a rash move on the pitch and his style of play drew comparisons with greats of the game such as Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer.
Like Roberts and Perryman, Ledley was also comfortable in midfield and for many years he held the record for the fastest goal in the Premier League. He did, at least, stay fit enough to claim a League Cup winners medal in 2008 but there should have been so much more.
We passed over a number of strong contenders when compiling this list and fans of Gary Mabbutt may feel especially miffed. Equally, we could make a case for Richard Gough who was sublime in defence through 1986/87 but he just wasn’t at the club for long enough.
We also need to bring this right up to date and in reality, this could have easily been a split decision between Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. The two Belgians have been a rock at the heart of our defence and should really be the first choice pairing.
Toby has just edged it – based mainly on the fact that we seem to miss him more when he’s absent from the starting XI.