Tom Huddlestone: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

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.

19 thoughts on “Tom Huddlestone: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

  1. wow a intelligent post a man that truly understands football I have been spurs since well birth in 1957 and I agree with everything you say.I also hoped that’s tom would become a great player but alas he is a good player its a shame so much skill and ball passing excellence but yes his reactions sometimes are too slow i hope he finds a home .

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  2. One of my faves of the last half decade or so. I agree that essentially the game has passed (sic) by him at the top level in the premier league, though from what I see of continental European football the pace of the game is accelerating there too. We’ve likely outgrown Hudd (I know most people call him Thudd, but I always preferred Hudd) too, as a club, given our loftier status and ambition. Still, he’s left many fine memories of his time at Spurs and I’ll fondly remember him. Also played a fair few times in the back four, and quite decently a lot of the time, when needed. A good Spur.

    Mind they said he was finished at Spurs last season and the season before that and the season before that? An early season injury or two and we may again gaze upon Mr Technique with new eyes…

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  3. I’ve always had a lot of time for Huddlestone. I think injuries at key points in his career stopped him from becoming a fixture in the team earlier on but his overall progress has been too slow against the backdrop a rapidly improving team over the last few seasons. I really hope he finds a club that can play to his obvious strengths.
    Another player I feel is being left behind is Livermore. He’s a decent player coming off the bench but I’m not sure now whether he’ll get the opportunities to make much of an impact as a starter?

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  4. He is just plain dozy. Defoe, and to a lesser extent, Lennon, are also not good enough for ‘new’ Tottenham, although I’d keep the latter as a good squad player. Defoe has had his time.

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  5. I like Livermore too. Given he has played a lot at right back coming through the ranks, I’m surprised he hasn’t had a go there as cover in the first team. At least not that I remember.

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  6. Never seen this site before. an excellent article, far more articulate than the norm. And a man who knows his stuff too. It’s a shame

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  7. Nice article. I’ve always enjoyed watching Huddlestone play lovely passer of the ball and scored some excellent goals , Man City away and the goons at home spring to mind but I fear his time is now up at Spurs and maybe OL football. Pace and athleticism is king now and whilst I’m very excited for our prospects next season it’s a shame the Huddlestones of this world appear to be a dying breed.

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  8. Do not forget season 2009-10, when he DID make the Spurs midfield his own. We finished fourth for the first time in our EPL history, and Tom was the most started outfield player with 33 starts. This is proof that he is capable of it. Whether he can do it again – after those injuries and being left in the wilderness for a while is another matter. Also whether he could do it for AVB.

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  9. Nice article. It pretty much sums up my feelings on Tom. He has so many of the attributes to you want from a playing his position but he is lacking in a few vital elements. I don’t think I have ever seen a Spurs player strike a ball as sweetly and hard as Hudd, and he can truly pick out a pass. But despite his huge frame he never really seemed up for the physical aspect of the game and for want for a better phrase seemed, at times, like a big softie.
    Last season we saw he did like to make a challenge, but when he does, he is so terrible slow and would invariably end up giving the ball away. He made it this far in football not simply down to his size, but for a great ability in the pass and shot, its a real shame at 26 years of age he hasn’t been able to elaborate on this and improve his game. Injuries haven’t helped of course but maybe it’s time for him to ply his trade, more regularly, at another club.
    I wish him all the best.

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  10. Have to (sadly) agree. His injury problems following on the 2009/10 season did for him. I don’t know if it’s worth one more season (if Hudd stays fit, he can still cover well in defensive and creative midfield) but he won’t get better or faster now.
    Perhaps he can capture the form of a few years back, however, and justify a place. Goodness knows we need a creative midfielder more than anything. It’s all very well having lots of energetic and strong midfielders, whether defense or attack minded, but we need an orchestrator .. a playmaker. Apart from the embryonic Carroll, we have no one, and that is not a Spurs state of mind, let alone the last part of a jigsaw in this squad. It will be THAT sort of player who takes pressure off the Dembeles, the Paulinhos, the Sandros, the defense generally, and frees up the forwards, the wing, and yea ..the great Bale himself!
    While Parker looks like going, remember how well he played in the holding position with Modric beside him. He’s been lost since Modric departed ..and frankly, without Bale’s exploits, so have Tottenham.
    And let’s get our forward situation sorted!

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  11. You don’t need pace in central midfield. You need a footballing brain and good technique, both of which he has in abundance. There is a place for Tom in our squad, if he leaves it will be a shame. There is no better passer of the ball in the league and we have the players to do the graft so he can create. He is the most underrated player ever on Spurs web boards probably because the majority on them have never been to a game in their life.

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  12. Good blog. Before his injury he was one of the best English midfielders around. He’ll leave, play regularly somewhere and remind us just how good he is.

    Michael Carrick had his best season at age 30, Tom’s got plenty of time. He will fulfil the potential he showed IMO. Would love to see him play abroad.

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  13. John

    I agree with you. Good comment! Please AVB, idiot, keep him. After leaving of Van Der Vaart, he is last player with superb pass skills and for sure, he has the most powerful and pure shot in the league.

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  14. Brilliant article and i agree with every word. Hudd can be brilliant but only if given time and space. He doesnt have “quick feet” – a pity but true.

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  15. Yes, Hudd has had his day and is too slow for this Spurs team.
    I am so excited about this season. The new boy with Dembele and Sandro in midfield and one perhaps two new strikers.
    We will qualify for CL and have a good chance of even winning the league.
    Good article Alan.
    COYS

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