It promises to be a big summer for Tottenham off the pitch after the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas as Harry Redknapp’s successor in the White Hart Lane hotseat, which leaves the future’s of a number of first-team players up in the air, none more so than Tom Huddlestone.
The central midfielder missed the majority of last season after requiring surgery on an ankle injury twice over the course of the campaign, but he looks set to return to the club in time for the start of pre-season, but has too much time passed him by? Or to put it more pertinently, has he slipped too far down the pecking order while he’s been out with injury?
At 25 years of age, Huddlestone is still fairly young, younger than you might think at least, and he already boasts a wealth of experience. He was an integral player up until the end of Tottenham’s Champions League-sealing fourth-place finish in 2009-10 until finding himself something of a regular on the treatment table.His range of passing from deep has been missed at times, and Huddlestone has one of the best in the entire league when on form, but his lack of mobility, particularly after nearly a year out with a serious ankle injury, could have been reduced even further.
At Porto, Villas-Boas championed a three-man midfield with a pressing style. Joao Moutinho (already heavily-linked with a move to Tottenham), Fernando Belluschi and Fernando were the three given the nod more often than not during their treble-winning season. At Chelsea, the Portuguese manager tried to implement a similar system without the requisite players to carry it off successfully, with only Ramires capable of playing that high-tempo style.
With question marks hanging over the repsective futures of both Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart, the signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim, pinching the player from right under noses of Liverpool in the process, looks a wise move, in the short-term at least. Modric would be an absolutely huge loss to the Tottenham midfield, certainly more so than Van der Vaart, despite his goal threat, as his ability to dictate the tempo while offering a constant outlet for recycling the ball is without peer in the Premier League and he’d suit the new manager’s style of play down to a tee. Nevertheless, if they can shift him on for a fee of upwards of £30m while bringing in someone like Moutinho to replace him, they should be more than alright.
The role Villas-Boas has shown a preference for in the past and the one that may suit Huddlestone is the deep-lying anchor role, just in front of the back four. This was the role occupied by Brazilian Fernando at Porto and either Oriol Romeu or John Obi Mikel at Chelsea. It requires, above all else, sound positional discipline, and the ability to cover the fluid duo ahead, and while it’s undoubtedly a role for a hard-working midfielder, Villas-Boas likes his anchor men to be technically proficient, which lends itself in Huddlestone’s favour.
At Porto, Fernando was at times called to sit very deep, especially with a lot of the team’s width coming from out wide, with both Alvaro Pereira and Cristian Sapunaru asked to bomb on from full-back. Again, Huddlestone’s experience and ability of playing at centre-half in the past may prove pivotal in his favour, with the system switching when the team is on the attack from a back four into a flat-back three, with the holding man slotting in-between the two centre-halves.
Huddlestone’s lack of movement could prove a cause for concern, though. His passing range is excellent, but he struggles to get around the pitch with the same energy that either Sandro or Scott Parker could, his rivals for the role. I’m a big fan of the player, but there’s no hiding from the fact that this is a fairly glaring weakness in his game and he can be picked off by a fluid, counter-attacking side in a four-man midfield, even if Villas-Boas is unlikely to start with a conventional 4-4-2 given his past history.
Parker enjoyed an excellent first half of the season last term, striking up a good understanding with Modric in the middle of the park, before a combination of fatigue and the odd niggling injury put paid to his form. The Parker-pivot is his staple, but it allows him to retain possession in tight areas, while spinning out and creating space for a team-mate; a simple but very effective move. His passing range is fairly simple, and he most certainly comes under the bracket ‘tidy’. It would seem odd to see Parker pushed further forward as he can resemble a headless chicken at times whenever he gets near goal, so he remains a rival for the anchor role.
Sandro on the other hand, is like a bull in a china shop. He can be brilliant at times (Inter Milan), but woeful at others (Arsenal 5-2 defeat coming on at half-time). He’s held in high regard around the club, though, and he’s slowly but surely forcing his way into the starting eleven and he may have overtaken Huddlestone in the pecking order in his absence. The 23 year-old Brazilian’s range of passing, while not as good as Huddlestone’s, is also very underrated, but his inconsistency does remain a stumbling block.
Redknapp was known to be a huge fan of Huddlestone but his ally has now left the club, so rumours linking the midfielder with a move to reuinte with former mentor Martin Jol at Fulham are understandable. However, this could be a pivotal turning point for the three-capped England international. In theory, he has many facets to his game that could attract Villas-Boas to handing him a key role. While he may be linked with a switch away at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him handed a regular starting berth for Tottenham over the course of the coming campaign.
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