King happy with Spurs' new reign

HONG KONG - He may have been Tottenham's best player last season, almost single- handedly steering them into the Champions League.

But a Spurs team without Welsh wing wizard Gareth Bale - who left for Real Madrid for a reported world-record ¤100 million (S$173 million) last September - may still have the potential to surpass the heights attained last season, according to their former captain Ledley King.

"We lost one of the best players in the world but are still around the top of the league competing," he pointed out.

"It shows how well the team have adapted to not having Gareth around; I think it's been a case of everyone working that little bit harder and more as a unit."

The former England international centre-back was speaking to The Straits Times in Hong Kong on Thursday, as the English Premier League club announced a five-year sponsorship deal with insurance group AIA.

The sponsorship deal is believed to be worth over £12 million (S$25 million) a year, and will see AIA's brand appear on the front of all Spurs shirts until the end of the 2018-19 season.

King expects some new stars to emerge in that time - particularly in the wake of the club's reinvestment of the huge transfer money received from Real in exchange for Bale's services.

"They're all going to be excellent signings," he said of the newcomers, which comprise centre- back Vlad Chiriches, midfielders Paulinho, Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen, as well as striker Roberto Soldado.

"The Premier League can take a bit of getting used to and some will take longer than others.

"But they're quality players who will play an important part from now until the end of the season."

Indeed, there are signs that this Spurs side are starting to gel after an inconsistent start to the season under the micro-managing style of former manager Andre Villas- Boas.

Following heavy losses to Manchester City and Liverpool and with the club lying in seventh spot, the Portuguese was summarily dismissed in December.

His replacement, Tim Sherwood, has proven to be a breath of fresh air.

"The style of football that he likes to play is the way Tottenham like to play - attacking and entertaining," King said of Sherwood, his former team-mate at the club.

"And we're seeing some players flourish because of this."

Under Sherwood, Spurs have collected 23 of the 30 points on offer and are fifth in the league standings - three points behind Liverpool in fourth and just seven adrift of leaders Chelsea.

But whether they can outdo the Bale-inspired Class of 2013 and make it into the top four is anybody's guess - especially in a campaign as close as this.

So close, in fact, that King's pick for champions has gone from Chelsea at the start of the season, to Manchester City at the halfway point to "who knows?" now.

"It's all up for grabs," he said.

Since hanging up his boots in 2012 following an injury-ravaged career, the 33-year-old has taken on a role as club ambassador but is fondly remembered by Spurs fans, who regularly sing of a player who "has only got one knee (but) is better than John Terry".

Like any true Tottenham man, however, there is one club he would prefer to not see being crowned champions.

"You can't write them off - they've been top of the league for most of the season," King said of Spurs' bitter north London rivals Arsenal.

"But yeah, anyone but them."

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