Ledley King vs Tony Adams: Assessing who was better in their prime

Max Cooper
Tony Adams is all-time great at Arsenal
Tony Adams is all-time great at Arsenal

The north London derby has seen some of the very best defenders in English football go head to head, with the odd star even making the unforgivable decision to swap the white jersey for red, or vice versa.

Two men who remained forever faithful to their colours are Tottenham Hotspur's Ledley King, and Arsenal's Tony Adams. The duo both captained their respective clubs, became legends for their fanbase and ended their careers exactly where they started it.

Gunners fans will claim Adams is one of - if not the - best centre-back the Premier League has ever seen, while Spurs supporters will recount stories of King's commitment, class and sacrifice for the club they both loved.

But which player was better? 90min is ready to settle the debate.

Modern defender traits

Ledley King
King would fit seamlessly into the modern game / Stu Forster/Getty Images

A simple idea for comparing two players whose careers crossed paths, but were largely lived in different eras, is to imagine how they would fare in the modern game. King immediately springs to mind as a man whose style would thrive in the current edition of the Premier League.

He was strong, fast, intelligent, read the game excellently and was always in the right place to nullify dangerous attacks. On top of that, he would also suit the current demands put on defenders to be more well-rounded footballers, and you could see him carrying the ball out of defence for any of the current top teams in the league.

Adams is your more 'classic English centre-back'. He played every game with his heart on his sleeve, and was very much the embodiment of passion and a desire to win. While he would obviously be a superb defender in the modern game, there's a reason he thrived so much in the previous, more physical era.

King takes this one.

Tackling & aerial prowess

Tony Adams of Arsenal and Teddy Sheringham of Manchester United
Immaculate / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

King was obviously a terrific one-on-one defender, but his real strengths lay in his positioning and awareness. He was rarely caught out of position by an attacker, and read the game with effortless ease.

His accuracy in the tackle was reflected in his disciplinary record, as he picked up only eight yellow cards in his entire career - and even for someone whose career was cut short, that is exceptionally low.

In terms of the backs to the wall, routine defensive work that a centre-back has to carry out every week, there have been few more efficient or impressive defenders than Adams. He was an imposing figure to come up against, and he made every striker's life a nightmare for 90 minutes.

The defender was also towering in the air, and would never shy away from an aerial duel. A man mountain of a footballer, and one of the most combative and ruthless centre-backs you'll ever come across. Adams is unrivalled.

Ball-playing ability

Ledley King
On the ball / Phil Cole/Getty Images

From an early age, King impressed everyone in north London with his ability with the ball at his feet. His unerring calm when passing out from the back and carrying possession up the field only confirmed suspicions that he was the real deal.

His awareness and ball-playing abilities drew comparisons with the great Bobby Moore, and if your name is mentioned in the same breath as England's World Cup-winning captain, then you know you've got something special.

Adams however, was not so synonymous with silky football - not at the beginning, at least. He started out as a no-nonsense centre-back, but did slowly adapt his game to carry the ball out and improved his technical ability.

Still, he wasn't on the same level as King.


Tony Adams...
An ever present / Andrew Redington/Getty Images

This one is King's Kryptonite. For many onlookers, the Spurs man had all the attributes needed to become a Premier League and England legend - but his body let him down. He managed to feature in all 38 games of the 2004/05 season, but featured four times in 2007/08 and six times in 2010/11.

Eventually, King had to give up his ambitions of continuing his career, retiring at the age of 31 in 2012.

Tony Adams on the other hand simply had the physique to withstand any collisions or beatings that he took, becoming an ever-present feature at the heart of Arsenal's defence. From 1986 until 2001, Adams incredibly managed to make at least 20 league appearances in every season, hitting 30 appearances in eight campaigns.

Basically, if you needed to find a man to build your defence around, Adams was that man. He would be on the pitch no matter what, and for that reason, he wins this round.