It was inevitable that Andrea Pirlo’s midfield master class in Italy’s Euro 2012 quarter-final victory against England would create the need for the discovery and nurture of an ‘English Pirlo’. Call off the search. A ready-made candidate has returned from a long-term injury and could not have timed his recovery any better. Step forward Tom Huddlestone.
Tottenham Hotspur’s man mountain started only one competitive game last year after two operations on his right ankle ravaged his season, but he has returned to full fitness ahead of pre-season and will have designs on impressing new Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas. He is certainly not short of plaudits from previous managers, George Burley described Huddlestone as “the
Harry Redknapp was also a big fan, on many occasions comparing Huddlestone to former Spurs great Glenn Hoddle. “He’s a great passer of the ball, he can pick players out, he keeps possession for you. He’s got everything, really,” Redknapp revealed during Tottenham’s Champions League campaign in 2010. “He doesn’t know if he’s left-footed or right-footed and opponents feel exactly the same, which is amazing and a great advantage when players try to close you down.”
England have not been blessed with a wealth of silky midfield operators over the years and those that have emerged, including Hoddle and Jamie Redknapp, have struggled to establish a regular role in the national side. Fortunately for Huddlestone, Redknapp has always had an affection for a cultured presence at the heart of his team’s and Huddlestone thrived under his stewardship at times.
He made more starts than any other outfield player in Tottenham’s 2009-10 campaign, when a fourth-placed finish earned Champions League football for the first time. He also captained the side on a number of occasions, including their famous 3-1 win against European Champions Inter.
Genuinely two-footed with great touch, he can retain possession and is adept at picking a pass long or short, everything that England were lacking at the European Championships. He also strikes the ball quite beautifully, clean with no backlift, generating considerable power and has netted a number of goals from distance.
Capped at U17 and U19 levels before making 32 appearances in four-and-a-half years at U21 level, Huddlestone made his senior England debut as a late substitute in a friendly against Brazil. He featured in warm-up matches against Mexico and Japan ahead of the 2010 World Cup, having made Fabio Capello’s preliminary squad, but was not selected amongst the final 23.
Huddlestone will hope that his fitness concerns are a thing of the past but whether or not he can be accommodated within the strict, high-intensity formation that Villas-Boas favours remains to be seen. His rare talents need to be embraced and utilised. Able to function as a centre-back and play in and out of defence if required, he exhibits the qualities that were trained out of the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King, with vision and passing ability akin to Paul Scholes.
Huddlestone is proof that English players do emerge with the ability to emulate and compete with their more technically proficient rivals. It is the responsibility of Spurs and England to harness this talent and allow it to flourish.
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