January 9, 2014
Conor Kelly from The Final Third discusses his changing attitude towards Tom Huddlestone…
I admit I had a problem with Tom Huddlestone. Not personally, because clearly I don’t know him and have never spoken to him. As a player though, he was incessantly frustrating. I would watch Huddlestone play for Tottenham and consistently he would fail to leave his imprint on a game. There just seemed to be something subconsciously in his demeanour that made him appear languid or lazy. A central midfielder’s job is to control the pace of a game, link defence to attack and exert an influence on proceedings. This could not have been further from what I envisioned when I watched Huddlestone.
It struck me that Huddlestone was a player seemingly in a comfort zone. Sure, he was clearly a technically proficient footballer. He was starting regularly at a top six Premier League side and had been capped by England. He was well payed and enjoyed the perks of living in London. What need did he have to improve or better himself? I looked at Huddlestone as the exact type of modern player I disliked. How judgemental of me.
That all changed though. An injury hit 2011-2012 season restricted Huddlestone to only four appearances. After Harry Redknapp’s departure, he was segregated to the fringes of the Spurs squad by incumbent manager André Villas-Boas. Huddlestone felt it was time for a new challenge. A move to newly promoted Hull City followed. It has proved an astute choice. Under the charges of Steve Bruce, a manager who clearly trusts him, Huddlestone has grown in stature. He has matured into a confident, composed footballer.
A mainstay in the Hull team and clearly an influential figure, the Nottingham native has begun to showcase the skill set I believed he did not process. Namely, a superb passing range off both feet, a positional awareness and a controlling calmness on the ball. As part of a trio of central midfielders in Bruce’s 3-5-2 system, he has more scope to impose himself on matches. Alongside Jake Livermore and David Meyler, energetic players capable of covering a lot of ground, Huddlestone has more freedom to pick up pockets of space and use his array of passing.
He was particularly outstanding in Hull’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool before Christmas, a match in which he was the dominant figure. The statistics show he has improved his game. He has a 50% tackle success rate and a passing success rate of 80%, which is decent for a player who predominantly attempts the arched, diagonal ball. His set piece delivery is always a danger to opposition rear-guards and he even ended his scoring drought which stretched back to April 2011. That goal against Fulham made him finally fulfil his promise to cut his outrageous locks, which he nobly did for charity.
Huddlestone garnered criticism for his laboured style, but it is clear English football could do with more midfielders who show the technical ability and natural comfort on the ball that the former Derby man does. Not all midfielders can thunder back and forth like a primed Steven Gerrard. Now I am not suggesting Huddlestone should be an automatic starter for England or should suddenly be catapulted into Ballon D’or contention, but I feel he is undervalued. Huddlestone has confounded my premature criticism. From having an irrational dislike of him, I now thoroughly enjoy watching Huddlestone in action. He has confounded my premature criticism. I only hope he can accept my profound apology.. in the unlikely event that he reads this.