Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part V
So for now, the backups.
Jamie O’Hara. Adel Taarabt. And John Bostock (which makes it eight in total, but whoever heard of the Magnificent Eight?). All three players sit in very different categories with regards to first team selection.
O’Hara is a first team player, if not a first choice player.
Bostock is a youth player and looks a real talent, but won’t arrive in the first team for another season or two. Depends on how his development progresses and whether Harry opts for yoof in the Carling Cup games next season. Reality is - he's not a backup player to the first team. Not yet. But One for the Future©.
Taarabt is an enigma. In the sense that some rate him others don’t. Clever feet, clever brain, not so clever decision making – but that’s not a negative. It's a learning curve. Going on loan to Q.P.R. is the best thing for him at the moment. Starting games is vital, and that’s something that was not happening for him at Spurs. It’s one thing show-boating in the reserves, another performing in the Championship. A competitive hard-working league is the best place for him to adapt his silky skills into a more realistic environment, so his understanding of when the basics are more important than the flicks gets programmed into his creative head.
Time for a closer look at the thrilling threesome...
O’Hara, an ex-Arsenal youth player, but one who would wear a Lilywhite shirt under the red and white of the South London club when playing for their youth team before making the short journey across their swamps to the bright lights of White Hart Lane. There is absolutely no doubting Jamie’s passion for the club. He’s a fan. If I was Premiership class (I'd play behind the front-two in a free-role creative play-making capacity...obviously) and you stuck me in the Spurs team, you’d love my intensity and spirit and commitment. I’d give it 110% and some. Jamie has that level of urgency in his play. What he doesn’t have is the polished all-round abilities to match his heart, that would surely make him a first-choice regular.
If you take a look at successful sides, most of the players never supported or support the team they are representing. It’s not a necessity. It would be nice to have that (love for the club) in every single one of our players – if we did, we’d have accumulated more than 2 points from the opening 8 games. But players should have instilled in them the right amount of graft as a given. They are professionals on a ton of money, they should never get anything less than 100%.
Fantasty football, yeah?
Jamie would probably give 110% no matter the club he played for because that’s him. He gets himself about a bit on the pitch, flying tackles and the like. He’s high tempo. But is he high class? Nope. We love him because....well, because he loves Spurs. But he’ll only ever be a decent squad player – a backup. Someone to come on in the final 20 minutes or perhaps start a Cup match to lower league opposition. I’m not sure he’ll progress any further. Hope I’m wrong. So I’m not stating anything amazingly insightful here. Possessing intensity, spirit and commitment is great, but doesn't account for much if you don't excel in other areas of your game.
Taarabt is Marmite. You love him or ....you know, but why anyone would hate him is beyond me. Have we become so impatient? Isn't Adel the quintessential Tottenham player? Ok, so he plays like a flash thirteen year old in a playground, ball stuck to his feet, trying to dribble it past everyone twice. If Adel was around when we sat up in 4th spot in that giddy season, he’d have made an impact. Much like he did against Utd earlier this season when Modric oh so nearly scored. It was Adel who started the move with those clever little feet.
But in other cameos he has frustrated the home support or just made us laugh out loud with his audacity and his naivety. But he doesn’t lack ability. Or self-belief. He has it in abundance. Storming performance for Morocco a month or so back on his debut. And not too shabby for Q.P.R. so far. He’s also stated he wants to return to Spurs and fight for a place. It’s difficult to know whether he will always just be the flash kid in the playground, a combination of Timothee Atouba (you’re perpetually worried he’s about to lose the ball) and Zidane (he thinks, we wish).
Next season, when back at Spurs, Harry should have him on the bench and start him when it’s safe to do so. He has to play games in the Prem for his raw potential to be tested, which means he should train with the first team squad and our coaches make sure that he matures and improves his decision making and composure. Shining at QPR will do him no harm at all.
The problem I have is that at other clubs, you see players touted as potentially world-class and they make their first team debuts early and shine and continue to do so - and prove they are on the road to possible greatness. We have had so many false dawns with much hyped players. And some are always stuck in limbo, never quite making it beyond the bench. If he is good enough, he should play. At the moment he isn't because of one or two immature traits. Iron them out, and we might just have a brilliant player on our hands. One that can change the game with a blink of an eye and a dink of the foot.
As for Bostock. It’s too early to make any assumptions – and to be honest, I’ve not seen enough of him. What I have seen, he’s been impressive and his UEFA Cup appearance (at the age of 16 years 295 days, the youngest ever Spurs player) this season showed that he was worth the battle with Palace to claim his signature. He's composed, refined and confident. An England U-17 captain and definitely not a player who will disappear into obscurity. He looks the part. Absolutely no need to rush him. Or is there?
To break into the first team at the age of 16/17 you have to be something extraordinary. Arsenal (Cesc) and Everton (Rooney) both stuck their young prodigy's into first team football early. For all the hype, we never do. Arguably you could state that Fabregas wasn't rushed. He was ready for it, such is the ability of the spitting Spaniard.
Again, responsibility falls to Spurs, but in the academy and in Alex Inglethorpe – I have faith. Our youngsters have claimed a few tournament successes over the past year and have fared very well in the ones they haven’t won. We do - hype aside - have proven quality at this level. Yes, I know, that doesn't mean they will all make the grade. But we've been pretty starved of academy promotions in recent years (I know Bostock came from Palace, but you get where I'm coming from - remember Owen Price and Michael Malcolm?).
Like most kids, once they start to make reserve appearances and knock on the first team door – you can only hope Spurs are in a decent position in the league and strong enough to allow for the young one to make comfortable appearances in the Prem. Asking a young player to perform in a struggling side can be soul destroying (Bale, Gio). A blossoming team is safer ground for promotion. Which is why Bostock hasn't played a bigger part this season.
O’Hara – Decent squad player, but not of a standard that would have Palacios sweating any time soon.
Taarabt – Young, ambitious, talented – but still naive and made up of raw potential. Has to play a part next season ‘at’ Spurs, off the bench and in the CC games.
Bostock – Ask again in one year, but we might see more of him in CC games next season (possibly along with Dean Parratt) – but still a few seasons off from first team football.
I know I’ve spoken about Huddlestone already back in Part III, but he deserves to be mentioned again. Last week he tapped himself up by suggesting he might need to look elsewhere for first team football. Newcastle were linked with him over the weekend in the tabloids (although why anyone would want to go there...) although that’s probably just a journo making stuff up just to fill the page.
Hudd performed well for the U-21’s – he usually does. He controlled the midfield in his usual nonchalant manner, which does get mistaken for looking a little on the lazy side. He played the ball well offensively and got stuck in defensively, winning a few tackles. And he scored and got to wear the captain’s armband for the second half. A confident all round performance then:
Huddlestone, and his accurate precise passing range, saviour of young England.
So why do we not rate him again? Oh yeah. He’s too slow.
Unless the entire midfield is built around him, and aids in compensating his lack of mobility – then maybe a transfer away is the only conclusion to this Tottenham midfield question. He has the technical ability but it’s not enough, and his weakness are too apparent for him to stand all on his own. Works in the U-21s. Might even work if he played his football abroad. But not over here where football is 1000mph. He needs protection.
So can he stand up and be a man? That's down to him. Not sure you can quite learn that on a training pitch.
Tom is a superb passer of the ball can hit a sweet volley. But whether it’s the lack of that much maligned mobility (of if you prefer to criticise him as being too casual with no fire in his belly and killer instinct) it’s apparent that he is lopsided when counting his positives and negatives. If you can’t move you get side-stepped. If you get side-stepped you become nothing more than a passenger. Compare him to other players of his ilk who start Prem games and you get to see the gulf in difference.
Personally, I don’t think Hudd is ‘too casual’. It's just a fallacy. He has an unflappable quality about him. Hoddle was always cited as being too casual, but what a player – not just with his passing or getting the tackles in (which he did more than people give him credit for) but his effort/application was unquestionable. That’s the crux of it with Tom. And it's why the question about 'standing up' to it is still left unanswered.
Whether you are casual or 110% in the way you play – you can get the same job done as long and the application is there. Is Huddlestone showing enough that suggests his effort can improve? It’s also a fallacy to suggest his build stops him from achieving acceptable lateral movement to keep him competitive in games. He shed a load of weight, he got himself into great shape. So unless he requires specific training for mobility – I can’t see what else he can do about it. If you don’t have the application, you’ll stagnate.
It's quite possible the problem is not in his gut, but in his head.
Huddlestone is at that cross-roads. I want him to be a success, but he’s nothing more than backup at the moment. And that might well result in him being someone else's conundrum next season.
In the concluding Part (VI) of this series - the (not so) Magnificent Seven become the Fabulous Four, led by a certain magical Croatian...