Renaissance men – what does the future hold for Tottenham duo?
White Hart lane has seen the arrival of a couple more fully-fledged internationals this summer. But whilst both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen are regulars in their national sides, they’re not the only internationally capped players to breathe new life into this Spurs squad. There are in fact, a couple of England players that’d have something to say about that.
Indeed, as Andre Villas-Boas continues to put his new Tottenham side through their paces in the United States, he has been able to welcome back both Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas into the fold. Both suffered a torturous 2011-12 term through serious injury, but they now have the chance to step into a squad on a clean slate and under a new regime. A regime that just might have the chance to revitalise both of their careers.
Both Jenas and Huddlestone started last season with differing ambitions although the outcome was ultimately the same for both players. Jenas had just been farmed out on loan to Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa after a season at Spurs, which saw him pushed to the periphery at White Hart Lane. Form and fitness had been problematic and a spell at Villa Park was seen as the perfect tonic. Huddlestone, on the other hand, appeared to be going from strength to strength – Fabio Capello was set to include him in the Euro 2012 qualifiers last September.
The outcome? Both players accumulated only five Premier League appearances for the season, between them. Jenas had been dogged by niggling injuries, which prevented him from making his Villa bow till the start of November. The midfielder’s season lasted all of four weeks, as he ruptured his Achilles against Manchester United on the 6th December.
Huddlestone’s woe was equally as dejecting. Spurs’ massive number six has been plagued with ankle issues for the past 18 months now and in February he underwent a second phase of surgery on his long-term ankle ligament problem. The last two seasons have been hard on the centre-midfielder, and his ankle may now always have to be managed. But it’s hoped he’s now past the worst of it.
But both players have fought back from injury, and they’re now successfully playing their part in Villas-Boas’ pre-season plans. Indeed, David Bentley’s return from a similar season of injury nightmare brings AVB’s returning English midfield contingent up to three. Bentley may also figure to have a future in this new Spurs team; but it is the fates of Jenas and Huddlestone that seem to bestow a lot more hope and optimism.
Andre Villas-Boas has been deploying, as expected, a 4-2-3-1 formation in his short time so far as Spurs boss. Even if this morphs into a 4-3-3 at times, the change in style at Tottenham will leave the returning duo rubbing their hands with glee.
It is the roles of the two sitting in front of the back four that will be of real interest to Jenas and Huddlestone. As we’ve seen in recent times, the role of the defensive midfielder has come a long way. Teams are no longer deploying footballers with the ability to simply negate play, with the focus as much on the construction of moves. Close control and an adept range of passing are as important as the ability to sniff things out and although neither Jenas or Huddlestone are superb in the tackle, Villas-Boas will value a great positional sense with just as high esteem. Both might have a real chance at securing one of these berths.
Many supporters will already be sniffing something of a red herring in the promotion of Jermaine Jenas to the starting XI. Despite his injury last term, his loan to Aston Villa was hardly greeted with much surprise at White Hart Lane, but it’s easy to be hard on the ex-Nottingham Forest man. Jenas has often been the scapegoat for flimsy Spurs performances and sometimes that critique has gone too far.
He had been blighted by a series of niggling injuries before his long-term injury last term and he struggled to get a real run of league games under Harry Redknapp in the 2010-11 season. You can’t underestimate the importance of genuine game time after coming back from any injury and perhaps some fans expected too much from him in too little time. Jenas has his faults but we can’t forget his strengths. His engine and work ethic are his biggest traits but he has a good technical side to his game that could suit AVB’s new system. He deserves a chance at the very least.
Tom Huddlestone, however, will be expected to push on in this Spurs team for a starting place. And providing he can keep himself fit, there is no reason to think that he can’t have a real impact. His range of passing speaks for itself and the prospect of him putting on the diagonals for the likes of Kyle Walker or feeding it through to a quicksilver three in front of him is tantalising.
His biggest weakness is a lack of mobility in the centre of the park and this did become a slight problem during his time under Redknapp. But the AVB setup can cater for that and as with Jenas, if his positional play and awareness are up to scratch, then it won’t be as much of a problem. But you would think that pairing Huddlestone with a slightly more intrinsically defensive partner wouldn’t necessarily be the worst idea Villas-Boas would ever have.
Competition for these two spots in the Tottenham side is likely to be fierce next season. The sitting two don’t have the fluidity that the three in front are offered but what that also means is that Huddlestone and Jenas are probably restricted as to where they can play. Whilst the new system offers a chance for the pair to shine sitting deeper, it massively negates the versatility they could offer in a 4-4-2; neither have the skillset to play in the three behind the striker.
There is also the small matter of Scott Parker, Sandro, Jake Livermore and the looming figure of whomever Spurs will surely bring in as Luka Modric’s replacement.
It won’t be easy for the pair, but the chance is there. Form and fitness will have a massive part to play but Villas-Boas is giving everyone their chance to shine. They were forgotten men last season, but don’t bet against either of them as Spurs’ new era finally takes off.
Can you see a future for Jenas or Huddlestone in this new Spurs team? Do they have what it takes to succeed under Villas-Boas’ new system? Tell me what you think on Twitter, for all the Spurs chat, follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.