We are all Brazilian now. As Spurs fans luxuriate in the knowledge that Paulinho, one of the world’s best up and coming midfielders, will grace White Hart Lane next season, spare a thought for Tom Huddlestone. Himself a highly touted prospect once upon a time, it’s likely that he will leave Tottenham this summer. Whilst he hasn’t progressed as fast or as far as I hoped when I first saw his raw talent, it is more the case that the game itself has moved on and left him behind. Tom Huddlestone is a relic of another era.
Tom has a childlike quality about him. He’s the big kid in Year 7, the body of a man head and shoulders above his peers but in his eyes the innocent unworldliness of a boy. His mum had to bypass the school uniform suppliers and instead shop for mansize trousers. She still makes him a packed lunch but he’s eaten it on the bus. He struggles with muscles that haven’t quite grown into his oversized frame, hence his awkward stride as if he’s uncomfortable in his own body.
It’s through fondness rather than derision that I describe him this way. He’s a fine player who wears the shirt as a privilege not a right and has always tried his best. I wanted him to succeed, to respond to our nurturing environment that values skill, touch and pass, but sad to say, his best has not been good enough.
Over the years in so many matches he has been a bit-part player, unable to grasp the midfield and make it his own. At times, he’s proved a liability. However, the real problem is that the game itself has passed him by. It’s about pace, speed and quickness of thought. Tom can see the openings ahead of him but often toils to get on the ball or to get rid of it when he is closed down. When he first arrived at Spurs, Sandro, another big man, learned to his and the team’s cost what happens if you dwell on the ball in British football. He adapted, Hudd never quite got the hang of it.
When opponents have the ball, he’s more than willing to defend but reacts too slowly to what is happening all around him, fatal in this day and age when so many goals are scored by midfielders or late runs from deep, where mastery of that zone between the back four and midfield frequently proves decisive. England caps came his way, one against Brazil if I remember rightly, and he was in the final 30 for the 2010 World Cup.
The shock of the new: enter Paulinho. One of the best players in the Confederations Cup, an integral part of Brazil’s future and now of Spurs’ future too. It’s a remarkable piece of business, a hefty price but the fee is less significant than the value. I have said for some time that in this phase of Tottenham’s history we stand or fall by our ability to buy and then develop younger players, men for whom Spurs is a step up.
Paulinho is a big guy too. Otherwise he’s everything poor Tom is not. Athletic and alert, he demonstrates a voracious appetite for the ball, is highly mobile and can both tackle and pass. These days defensive midfielders are much more than muscular destroyers. They must be relied upon to turn defence into attack, the vital transition as the jargon would have it, and Paulinho has the skill and speed of thought to fill the role perfectly. He gets forward too and scores goals, whereas as Huddlestone waits for a goal until he cuts his hair, his afro is so big, it blots out the sun.
In a bygone age, Huddlestone could have been lord of the manor. That was Glenn Hoddle’s title in the eighties, his sweeping passes cutting defences apart. Hoddle wasn’t the most energetic either, but in the Boys From White Hart Lane, several members of that team describe how they willingly did Glenn’s running for him. No such luxury now. The peerless Hoddle would always have been a master but there is less space and the game much faster. Remember how he was severely criticised at the time for his lack of workrate, as if that mattered when set against his masterful talents. Hudd has no such protection.
We can look forward to the mouthwatering prospect of Sandro and Paulinho in midfield. Our Andre can relax knowing that he can play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, or variations thereof. Incidentally, Paulinho has played in Europe as a young man so has both the experience and the build to settle in the Premier League.
Even more importantly, Villas-Boas knows that this close season, Levy will back him. No more cruel ‘wait and see how he does’ that undermined our bid for honours last time around. Villas-Boas has proved himself and has earned support in the transfer market.
Injury has held him back recently but it looks like Tom Huddlestone will move on. I’ve always thought a continental club would suit him, where he could lie deep and have a fraction more time on the ball. His passing is a precious talent – on his day he pick out a man at range like no other in the League, a beautiful sight to behold. I hope he finds a home where finally the big lad can finish growing up.