If the past 18 months have felt like a period of harshness and uncertainty for Tom Huddlestone, than the future must seem even blurrier at present. The 25-year-old’s return from a serious ankle injury doesn’t seem to have been greeted with quite the fanfare some were expecting and as recent reports suggest that a move out on loan awaits for the new term, his career seems to have taken a serious sideways step.
It remains to be seen what fate awaits Huddlestone during this transfer window, but it feels as if whatever his destiny is, his immediate future could be set away from White Hart Lane for the time being. Many supporters harnessed an expectation that the midfielder’s technical gifts would play a potential key role in Andre Villas-Boas’ new, continental-look set-up. It was thought that he’d at least feature as a squad member at the bare minimum.
But pre-season has offered some thrown up some difficult questions for Huddlestone. During Tottenham’s pre-season tour of the United States and beyond, he has found game time hard to come by and even the much-maligned Jermaine Jenas seemed to have made his way above him in the pecking order. It is thought that Huddlestone hasn’t taken his reduced role in AVB’s Premier League preparations well.
This seemed especially apparent in the midfielder’s dangerously sulky demeanor on Twitter, when he replied to a supporter’s question about his fitness with the very abrupt: “Naw (sic) I’m fit mate.”
Worse was yet to come, however, with Huddlestone blurting out the classic adage: “Respect needs earning before being given #fact.”
Now even though Huddlestone has come out seemingly ridiculing those who assume his words of wisdom were aimed at Villas-Boas, it feels difficult to look past his Tweet as a momentary bout of extreme frustration. And if this is the case, then the three time England capped midfielder can be degreed a small amount of empathy.
The last 18 months have represented something of an absolute abyss for Tom Huddlestone. He has amassed a total of only 16 Premier League appearances in the last two seasons thanks to a persistent ankle ligament issue that has required two bouts of surgery. Huddlestone is still only 25, but it has robbed him of nearly two seasons of progression and he’s gone from being on the verge of making an England World Cup squad to the forgotten man of English football.
The likes of Tom Cleverley and Jack Rodwell have both suffered similarly length injuries but have still seemed to have kicked on further in such time. Watching Jordan Henderson play his part in the European Championships couldn’t have been easy for him either.
Huddlestone has the sort of technical skills and passing range that a very select amount of English footballers in his position have been blessed with. He offers something different to both club and country. A lack of mobility has perhaps damaged his role to play the more deeper, defensive role in midfield adequately, but it was thought that Villas-Boas’ new system could offer the perfect position for him.
The two holding players in a modern 4-2-3-1 no longer have to be Claude Makelele understudies. An apt reading of the game, the ability to intercept and the composure to play the ball out, are just as important traits in such a set-up. Huddlestone has the skillset to prosper in such a line-up.
Although after such a long-time out, it can be hard to manage expectations upon returning. Huddlestone’s cameo in the pre-season victory over Stevenage was his first run out for Spurs in over 10 months. He will of course be desperate to get going and eager to break into the manager’s new set-up. But after the best part of an entire calendar year out of professional football, he can’t simply expect to just jump straight back into the team. You can understand his disappointment about not even making the squad for the trip to Newcastle on Saturday, but he’s got to be patient; any more outbursts could serve to seriously harm his future in N17.
Half a season or a season away from Spurs could galvanize Huddlestone and give him just the platform to benefit both himself and the club in the long run. Because however much it hurts and however much misfortune has played his part, the brutal truth is that his stock has been lowered considerably as a result to injury.
It doesn’t mean for five minutes that it can’t rise again after a string of great performances. But Villas-Boas is trying to navigate a new set of players under a new style of playing to Champions League qualification. Huddlestone has to demonstrate he’s able to perform at that level in the Premier League both fitness and performance wise.
Doing that at Tottenham for starters, could be a difficult task in itself. Sandro is looking more and more like a first-team banker with every game he plays and in the likeliness of Luka Modric’s departure; his replacement will likely be looking to slot straight into one of the two holding roles. If that is someone of the ilk of the touted Joao Moutinho, then Huddlestone would have a job on his hand’s getting game time. Let alone the presence of the ever-improving Jake Livermore and the returning steel of Scott Parker. He needs cold, hard game time in the Premier League to regain his sharpness and there are no guarantees he’d get anywhere near enough at Spurs this season.
And even if he were afforded the game time that he so desperately needs at Spurs, the pressure to perform for a player who’s been out of the game for near on a year, would be massive. There are no guarantees that he’ll be able to just slip straight back into old ways from the off and mistakes will come along the road back to full match sharpness. Making them in a team with the lofty ambitions of Spurs this season is going to bring with it an awful lot more exposure and examination. There’s nothing wrong with easing himself back in at a slightly lower level.
But whatever way he looks at it, he must be realistic. Andre Villas-Boas needs to be backed and if he decides that Huddlestone is to be farmed off on loan, then supporters need to get right behind him. Villas-Boas’ man-management was called into question on several occasions during his time at Chelsea and he would do well to not upset someone who’s a popular member of this Tottenham Hotspur squad.
Although Huddlestone must step-back and use any frustration he may have as a fuel to spur him on for the new season. A loan move away from White Hart Lane isn’t the end of the world for him. And it isn’t a particularly bad idea either.
How do you feel about Tom Huddlestone’s future in N17? Is AVB right to consider sending him out on loan or should he be staying at White Hart Lane and fighting for his place? Let me know what you’d do on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me how you see it.