The slight air of unreality surrounding our season so far was further compounded by the sight of Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone in an England midfield, baking under a Middle Eastern sun as the whiplash gales destroyed my garden fence. Congratulations to all our internationals, especially to Tom on his debut. Four Spurs players in the same team: if this carries on and Lennon returns, then perhaps in the years to come Tottenham can take the credit for victory in the 2010 World Cup in 2010, just as the Hammers lay claim to the 1966 triumph.
Now we really are slipping into the realms of the unreal. Not even the most nightmarish of LSD trips could conjure such a surreal vision. Nevertheless, there they were, the two players who most clearly divide opinion amongst the Spurs faithful. Even those who praise their efforts, as I do, would not have selected them.
JJ’s performance has been criticised in the media, or more accurately, it has been passed over. He worked very hard but did little to attract the interest or attention of a media eager for portents for the summer. But it was precisely this quality that for me made his performance interesting, because he worked with a diligence that is often missing when he plays for us.
His stamina and appetite for the ball is beyond doubt. Even during a bad game, to his credit he keeps running and makes himself available for the ball, a sign of his growing maturity as a couple of years ago he would have hidden from view once the crowd began to moan at a few misplaced passes.
His workrate is phenomenal, a quality that is not usually given sufficient recognition by Spurs fans. A few years ago I saw him as the senior player in a pre-season Spurs XI friendly against the now defunct Fisher Athletic. Under little pressure, he covered the whole pitch, running for the sake of it like a toddler dashing up the street, just because they can. On Saturday, he added more of a sense of discipline and purpose, tracking back and picking
up runners and at least on one occasion making a tackle that could well have prevented a second goal. When not in possession, he dropped back into the midfield shield and remained alert to danger, closing down opponents swiftly. On the ball, he found space and moved it on after a touch or two.
JJ’s problem is that he looks better than he is. In the paddock, so to speak, he is for all the world a thoroughbred, but on the track he will be in contention until falling away in the final furlong. Sometimes he looks so good, striding across the White Hart Lane turf, the ruler of all he sees. Athletic and poised, his long stride gobbles up the yards, setting up attacks, running past the strikers to pick up a knock on or through ball with perfect timing. He can be a danger at the edge of the box with his shooting, and once his free kick against Manchester Untied flew in unerringly.
Bursting with potential, I start each year believing that this finally will be his breakthrough, when he puts it all together. Except that day is never going to come. He will remain frustratingly inconsistent because ultimately his touch on the ball and judgement of weight on the pass is not quite good enough. The less said about his free kicks since Old Trafford, or indeed his credentials as captain, the better.
Coming back to the England experience, the future lies in a genuine response to lower expectations by restricting his role. If that’s how he is, then play to his strengths. We need more in defence, especially away from home, so let’s remind him about his workrate and discipline when wearing the Three Lions, restrict his forward movement until all danger has passed and use his stamina to pick up the runs of opponents or to press and harass in the centre. Here’s our box to box midfielder – I hope he finds his vocation.
As for Big Tom, there’s little to be learned from his brief appearance. The Big Boned One (is it me or have his bones become larger lately…?) also creates huge irritation for similar reasons. His passing is wonderful, seeing the long ball early and picking out his man. I will refrain from making comparison with the incomparable Hoddle, but on his day his touch bears comparison with anyone in the Premier League. He’s young and still learning – despite the number of appearances totting up, this season is the first when he has had an extended run in the team.
However, his inconsistency is again enormously frustrating. There is a top class player in there somewhere but the problem lies not in his feet but in his mind. There’s truth in the old adage that the first yard is in the head, and in Tom’s case it stays there. His lack of awareness when he does not have the ball will hold him back, especially as he lacks the pace to get himself out of any difficultly. Still, this is something that he can learn, but at the moment it’s slow progress. I confess I thought he would be further on in his development by now.
Again, a positional change will do him good. Hud is not a defensive midfielder, just because he’s a Big Bloke. He’s better further forward where his passing can set up Defoe and Keane with early balls to feet or chest and his shooting can be truly dangerous. He’s fine when looking in one direction, i.e. when the play is set out in front of him.
When he moved onto the ball before scoring against Sunderland, he was a man transformed. Gone was the gawky, clumsy, almost adolescent figure, a kid in a man’s body. Suddenly he was perfectly balanced, athletic and powerful in his concentration. The classic footballer pose, in fact. His cap should boost his confidence – he’s not the most extrovert player and his head drops after a few bad passes. Not much on the day but hopefully the springboard to the next stage in his development. But the real lesson to be gleaned from the weekend is a re-think over positions. Maybe JJ should stick to being our midfield dynamo with Hud the playmaker, setting up and scoring. It’s worth a try.