Huddlestone did alright last night. We all know he's not on top form, nowhere near it. But then would you be if you spent a season sidelined? We also know he's hardly the most aggressive player which means the midfield battle can sometimes pass him by. Maribor got in our faces, hassled and pressured, Hudd tried to make things happen but he had little to aim for. Don't want to be seen as scapegoating and my comments in the after match musings was a reference to that one single incident when he casually watched a player float past him. If you were stuck on social media at the time, you'd understand the dart board mentality. Let's remember, he almost went out on loan (to regain fitness elsewhere).
Once he's fit, we'll move onwards with that never shifting conundrum as to whether a player of his style can settle and dominate in the fast paced modern game that expects offensive players to partake in box to box action. Hudd next to Sandro with perhaps Dembele pushed into a more offensive position? That won't work as Dembele is not a marauding attacking midfielder, he's one that runs from deeper positions and gets his boots dirty with his beastly work ethic. Hudd isn't a Sandro or a Parker. If you want to compare him to player-makers of old, he's also not a Modric who would recycle possession magnificently, working the ball forward, passing and moving and then looking to unlock the defence with an acute touch. That latter one is something Tommy can do. A smart piece of jigsaw he is but will he ever fit into our puzzle?
All this conjecture reminds me of something I wrote back in March, 2009. We didn't have the answers back then either.
Incredible or just plain ordinary?
Tom Huddlestone is a supervolcano.
He's big, doesn't move much but when he does he melts the oppositions defence with devastating consequences. But it doesn't happen often. You might be lucky to witness this marvel once every 10 games or so. When the next one is due, I couldn't say.
Actually, scrap this particular analogy. I've no idea where it's going, and I'd rather limit the amount of Partridge-isms I'm guilty of from one week to the next. So let's try this again.
Tom Huddlestone is a fat Glenn Hoddle.
Tom Huddlestone is like a lighthouse. Stationary, but manages to light up all before him.
Tom Huddlestone is our Dr Manhattan. Big and powerful, but understated and misunderstood.
No, no, no!
Ok. Analogies scrapped. Stick to facts.
Tom Huddlestone is not the most mobile of players.
Tom Huddlestone is a very decent passer of the ball.
Tom Huddlestone has a cracking shot.
Tom Huddlestone is technically good.
Tom Huddlestone is versatile.
But is Tommy too slow, cumbersome and defensively a liability? Or is that an unfair description for the player, where his strengths are of a more offensive nature? If you stick him in the middle of the park and the Spurs midfield are under pressure, can he step up and get stuck in, much like the maligned Jenas is capable of doing (when he's on song) by running up and down the pitch and hassling opposition players?
It's the job of Palacios or Zokora (shudder) to bite the ankles of the opposing players and break down their attack or reclaim possession. But that doesn't mean other players shouldn't pull their weight (ouch). Lennon is superb at times, in nicking the ball back for us. It's not so much a case of getting stuck in though, is it? He's played centre-back in the past and he's got involved turning defence into attack, with a touch here and a 30 yard pass there. You can defend brilliantly by sending the ball across one side of the pitch to the other with the outside of the foot, releasing your winger or forward and giving the defence time to re-organise.
But what happens before the ball is back in our possession and we are on the backfoot? And there are questions around consistency. There is an argument that Tom does put in a shift, it's just that compared to others, it doesn't resemble one.
The problem with Tom is that he is far less dynamic than many players of similar ilk (creative/playmaking midfielders). Which means he is far weaker in less offensive areas than any other midfielder we have. Carrick could defend well, wasn't exactly fast, but was mobile. Pace, or more so mobility, is important. He doesn't have any. Or more to the point, to quote about a thousand websites, he turns slower than the QE2.
Tom is quite similar to Jermaine Jenas in the way of potential. Both highly rated as youngsters, both possessing qualities that are admirable. But are both over-hyped? Or do they excel in some areas, but not enough in others to be considered complete?
Tom is a regular for the U-21’s and performs well, chipping in with a goal every now and again. But he’s not a regular for Spurs. But does chip in with plenty of assists and a few goals when he does turn out in Lilywhite. Why? Just because he can deliver clever balls and Hoddlesque passes, does this warrant an inclusion in our starting line-up? And if it does, what would it mean to the structure and balance of the team? Well, for starters, the team would have to be built around him. Or at least compensate for his deficiencies. So Palacios responsibility would be to clear the area allowing Tom to play Quarterback.
Now, this might work if, let’s say, Tom was as talented as Hoddle. To make a player the main creative outlet of the team he has to be something a bit special, and I’m not sure he’s that good, potentially or otherwise. Comparing anyone to Hoddle is blatantly unfair, so to re-word the above, I'd say that to build the team around one player they have to be, unquestionable, class - if not 'world class'.
Not to say I would not like to see him given a chance. But it’s asking a little too much for someone like Tom to 'carry the team'. It’s a bit like asking us to build the team around Bent by playing football like Charlton Athletic did in the days they resided in the Premiership - just because we all know he can score goals when on the break. Bent has a knack of doing so, but doesn’t offer enough to slot into a variety of forward roles which is required depending on the opposition. He’s a bit one dimensional. But what of Huddlestone? (not one dimensional, I'd go with a beefy 3D figure, tbh).
Even little Modric (did take his time to adjust which is understandable) gets involved with some of the dirty work – but he’s no defensive midfielder. So unless Huddlestone actually has an overwhelming negative influence on the team, there is no reason why he can’t play centre-midfield in a role that takes full advantage of his vision and skills.
Yes? Or no?
It’s a conundrum this one for the simple fact that he doesn’t play often enough. Let’s say Jermaine Jenas did not exist (I’ll give you a moment to climb down off your desk and pull your pants up and compose yourself........). Huddlestone would possibly get a more sustained opportunity to impress. The more games, the bigger the confidence, the better the communication on the pitch is with team mates. Coming off the bench, he’ll always be a decent impact player simply because of his sharp passing. But from his personal perspective, he’d want more than that. I want more than that. We all do.
Imagine if you will (I'm in fantasy mode today), Tom Huddlestone in Claret and Blue. Easy now. It's just a fantasy. He’d probably play every single week. That’s just an opinion, and West Ham fans might accuse me of over-rating him and that he’d never get into their team. Maybe. Possibly. But I guess that’s the point. He’s good enough, but good enough for whom? He is definitely good enough for someone. At some point in the next year or two, he'll need to be far more involved otherwise his progression will stagnate. Unless of course, what you see is what you get. Maybe there is no improvement coming. So, would you argue that his passing is that good, we can't afford to lose him? Or that the only thing he has is his passing ability and it isn't enough to claim a centre-midfield pairing - arguably one of the most important positions in the team.
Tactically, a manager will want his strongest 11 starting every week. Let’s say that includes Palacios and Jenas in the centre. If Jenas was unavailable, would Huddlestone slot in and give us the same type of thing, or more to the point, would he give us something that amounts to the same positive for the flow of the side?
Much like Jenas, he is good at some things, and not so good at others. Much like, well, most players. The trick is to maximise his abilities, getting the best out of him which will benefit the team. Harry has managed to do this with Lennon, a player who had an outstanding season, followed by a low-key one, and his now back to the type of form his potential has been screaming out for.
So how do we maximise Tommy boy?
Huddlestone - the quarterback? Sat in the middle laying off balls to both wings or dinking them forwards, with Wilson in the role of fullback, protecting him. Sounds immense on paper. And we've seen it in patches. I remember, when he first really started to push for a place at Spurs I considered him and Cesc Fabregas as the brightest midfield talents in the UK. Compare the two now. Ok, so Fabregas is a horrible arrogant piece of classless muck, but his ability as a footballer is unquestionable. But sadly the difference is fairly astronomical. The mucks influence is superior as is his general mobility. But one plays every week (when fit) the other is not first choice and excels (much like Jenas) against lesser opposition. But has done epically against the bigger teams too. Just not as often as, let's say, the scum that is Cesc.
Our midfield has always lacked spin. Palacios has brought us that. Lennon outstanding on one wing, Modric covering the other. So does Huddlestone - passing abilities aside - give us enough strength and assurance down the middle? Can he adapt to the pace of the game and the quality of the opposition? When he dictates, he is superb. And its those moments that have us asking the questions about his worth to the team. When the emphasis is with the opposition, that's when the concerns creep in.
If Huddlestone is around 60% of what we need from a player and Jenas is about 68% , then possibly both are nothing more than squad players and that we need to look at bringing in a more complete player, someone who is around the 80% mark and above. Someone like Carrick who gave us more than enough of everything. Or someone better. That’s no easy task. So an option would be to stick him in the team and run with it and just see where it takes us. If the talent is there and needs developing then first team appearances will answer the questions.
There’s also the option of playing Modric in the middle. But if we did, how would this improve on a Palacios-Jenas combination or a Palacios-Huddlestone pairing?
In conclusion, Hudd does offer us something but if a player doesn't scream out 'FIRST TEAM REGULAR' just by looking at him, and you have to pose questions, then it's likely that he isn't quite what's required - simply because of the doubts. To counter that, if a player isn't given a chance, then he won't be any nearer to proving he can do the job. Sometimes players do not fit into certain teams because of the way the team plays. Which is why Tommy is as a luxury.
If Jenas and Zokora can play so often for us and be considered first team regulars - with all the doubts and concerns around their abilities (or lack of) then maybe it is only fair to give Tom a chance.
If it was the 1980s, he'd be a superstar.