Tom Huddlestone is described at Tottenham as anything from the heir to Glenn Hoddle, to an over-sized lump of a player. His passing is often exquisite, and yet his agility leaves something to be desired. As Tottenham prepare for their encounter with Arsenal on Wednesday night, there is a feeling that without Wilson Palacios alongside him, Huddlestone’s lack of pace will be exposed, and Arsenal will simply pass the ball around the former Derby County player. The question is, will Tottenham therefore ever be able to compete at the highest level whilst they have a player in central midfield that can be so brilliant, and yet so flawed?
Tom Huddlestone signed for Tottenham for £3m back in January 2005, under the ‘scatter gun’ approach adopted by Frank Arnesen. The Derby County midfielder was highly rated, and went to White Hart Lane with a big reputation. However, whilst Huddlestone made his full Tottenham debut back in January 2006, it is only this season that the player has managed to cement a place in the first team. It is worthy of note that the Huddlestone is still only 23, and yet many had already made their mind up on the player before Redknapp gave the boy an extended run in the first team.
Huddlestone’s biggest problem is his lack of mobility. He can work at improving his acceleration, but unfortunately, he will never be as quick as the stereotypical box to box midfielder that permeates the English game today. Huddlestone cannot use pace to break on a team, he cannot get amongst the opposition by chasing down opponents and making a challenge, and if he is caught high up the pitch, he will not be able to catch breaking midfielders of defenders.
This lack of agility can cause problems. Tottenham have signed the Brazilian Sandro to cover the absence of Wilson Palacios, but even with a fast, all-action type alongside him, Huddlestone can sometimes leave Tottenham’s midfield exposed in their traditional 4-4-2.
The flipside to these concerns, is that Huddlestone’s passing can at times be quite majestic. This season- the game against Everton at White Hart Lane being the most apt example-Tottenham miss Huddlestone’s ability on the ball when he is out injured. Further, although the player struggles with the pace of the Premier League, he has improved his overall defensive game. Huddlestone is still only 23, and perhaps needs time to learn how to compensate for his lack of pace, with good positional play, similar to Michael Carrick.
In the first half of the season, Huddlestone’s passing gave Tottenham the ability to use Lennon and Defoe’s pace to get behind teams, and Huddlestone’s capacity to spot a quick, accurate pass to Lennon was vital in the latter’s ability to claim nine assists before his groin injury. Glenn Hoddle is certainly a huge admirer of Huddlestone’s ability:
“He’s grown in stature and he’s played really well this year and I think when he was out everyone could see how much they missed Tom’s ability to pass the ball.
“He’s got ability, but more importantly as a midfield player he looks forward, he plays forward rather than square and back, he can hurt the other team and that’s the key thing Spurs miss when he’s out.
“He’s got quick feet, he’s got a quick brain and he’s got a good picture in his mind when he receives the ball. There are enough athletes in football, in the modern game, there are enough people who run around and do whatever but Tom’s got a special gift and I think he’s starting to believe in himself more and use it.”
Hoddle is succinct in his analysis if Huddlestone. He might only have three Premier League assists this season, but he often starts the move that creates the goal. Further, although the player can be caught in possession from time to time, Tottenham miss his calm and accurate passing in the middle of the park.
Huddlestone has had his best season by far this term, and has finally begun to turn the doubters at White Hart Lane. However, doubts persist over his ability to lead the team in their quest for Champions League, and top level football. Against the best midfield players – let’s say a Xavi, an Iniesta or even a Fabregas-would Huddlestone have the ability to hold his own when pressed, or break up the oppositions play when necessary? In a 4-4-2, there is a sense that a Tottenham midfield containing Tom Huddlestone would get overrun.
Huddlestone will have time to prove himself, but for the time being, the jury is still out on the successor to Hoddle’s crown.
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