The Huddlestone Proxy

He is perhaps the player that has elicited the ‘ahh I get it now’ response from the crowd (as the season itself unfolded) and from fans alike, and over the course of the season has grown in stature. But there are still question marks for some.

Spooky has previously mentioned the conundrum, in that whilst he appears to some to be immobile, lacks pace, is a luxury player, goes missing in big games, needs to play alongside a strong defensive player (basically Sergeant Wilson) to play to his own strengths or indeed lay off the Tommy K, he is not without his merits. And all of these have been common consensus opinions, since joining the club and a lot are, to be frank, not without merit (although the Daily Snail clearly haven’t heard of Photoshop).

      Huddburger anyone?

As some of you here will know, for the last couple of years I have been banging the drum (to the extent that I have been accused of acting as his PR agent) that Huddlestone is the closest we have had to replacing Carrick, to the point where those that have not been converted to my way of thinking have been silently assassinated and I carry on in my crusade. And as much as I’d like to now sit back and say ‘I told you so’, that wouldn’t tell the whole story.

But taking a step back it is easy to see that Huddlestone is also an anomaly in the bigger picture. It would seem the media has consistently pushed for an altered view on the game in England and with so many opinions out there by ex-professionals it is easy to see how it happens.

We are told time and time again about how great the English Premier league is, how tough it is and how the pace of the game is so much more intense than our European counterparts. And so in this frenetically paced environment we see an increasing number of waif like players, athletes who can ‘kick a ball a bit’, as opposed to the more skilful ‘guile and craft’ type players whose numbers appear to dwindle year on year, a perfect example of which is the increasingly frustrated Berbatov (who’s love for squirrels may see him moving to the continent).

And yet I can still (just) remember my Saturday morning’s as a nipper being told to pass the ball because ‘the ball can move quicker than I ever could’, this was relentlessly drummed into me (not in a Roman Catholic priests way) and yet amongst the myriad of opinion from ex-players it never gets commented on. Instead we are simply told that it is ‘pace’ that is so dangerous to teams and that these days they are all highly toned ‘athletes’.

Well Hudd doesn’t really have pace, I’ll grant you that, but he does put in some good leg work (often not noted or indeed commented on). So does that make him a ‘luxury player’? What exactly is he? Is he an attacking central midfielder? As he’s not your ‘box to box’ engine that get’s tagged onto so many other central midfield players (notably Lump-o-lard, Gerrard and more recently Fletcher for United). So maybe he’s not the player you want at ‘the top of the diamond’ or pushing forward. However he does have one hell of a strike on him when he connects. Conversely, he seems not to score very many from the positions he gets in, he doesn’t drive into the box to get onto crosses, in fact if anything he sits off waiting for the counter attack (good in my opinion, others find it frustrating).

So is he a defensive midfielder? Well there are some who say he can’t tackle, that stats from the last season alone will contradict that one, but actually this is where one of the subtlety’s of his game comes in. If you position yourself correctly and make it difficult for an opponent to get round you, you can stop them advancing without actually making a tackle. Helps If there’s a lot of you to get round of course, but it slows the attack and will force the opponent to rethink his attack. Does this appear on the ‘stats’ that get poured over each week? After all clearly there someone somewhere sat at every game with an abacus marking down every half-tackle, half-chance, along with the incomplete passes? Again you only have to look towards the media for their views on all manner of stats and indeed opinions. 

Well I have yet to see a specific column for ‘defending well without making a tackle’, but I have noted that Hudd has done this to great effect in some games (not all, and this is where the criticism is valid), most obviously in games where he shepherds the player into the brick wall that is Wilson.

But this whole ‘quarter back role’ that he’s been saddled with, does that make the best use of the fact that he can score a cracker right out of the top draw? And it relies on Wilson doing the tackling and passing to him to make the pass. Surely if you had the one player who could do both it would be more effective, wouldn’t it? And a quarterback dictates play, Hudd even at his best never really seems to ‘dominate’ oppositions, he just gets about his job without the shouting and ref surrounding that the aforementioned ‘box to box’ players all seem to have in common. He’s not a vindictive or terrier type player whose attitude commands the middle of the park like a (Roy) Keane or a Dennis Wise.

So he can’t beat his man for pace, he can’t really tackle (allegedly), he doesn’t have a ‘big lung bursting engine’ on him, and he doesn’t appear to outwardly have the big game attitude, so what is he? This ephemeral ‘luxury player’?

Or maybe he’s just a straight forward central midfielder, no ‘makalele’ or ‘quarterback’ tags. Just a simple player, where all he has to do in the middle is receives the ball and makes a pass. Well yes, but then anyone can do that, right? Wrong!!!! I refer back to one of the most frustrating and loveable players to have watched in recent times, Didier Zokora, who would run 30 yards to make a 5 yard pass, rather than simple make the 35 yard pass in first place. Was it because he couldn’t complete a pass over 5 yards, or that he was simply a headless chicken? I don’t know, I loved his heart and attitude, but it was never really matched by his play as it slowed down our attacks and allowed the organised teams to get back into their ‘two blocks of four’ an expression Messrs Hanson and Dixon seem to have patented.

So Hudd can make a pass, course he can. But that’s not the simplistic beauty of his play, no it’s always been far more subtle than that. He has two of the ‘gifts’ that others are not graced with, the ability to place the ball on a silver platter in any position on the pitch and more importantly the vision to see the movement by his team mates. Combined these give speed of thought and execution of a pass that turns defence into attack, and can split the most resilient of defences, or catch out players who have pushed out of position. For me, if the ability to create a goal from a single pass is a luxury, then in my humble opinion it’s a luxury every team could do with.

So I will now say that Huddlestone is the best midfield player we have had since Carrick, for me even better than Wilson (a sacrilege for some for me to even suggest that) and has the potential to be greater still. Sure with age and experience comes the ‘dominating’ aspect of the game, but he can tackle, and does, he puts in some of the hard yards and he ‘sees’ the game when he is on song.

He is versatile as well, he can sit back and make his passes allowing a more ‘craft and guile’ (Modders) or even our own ‘pace merchants’ (Lennon and Bale) to benefit from his ability. Or he can push on and dictate play higher up the pitch (alongside Wilson), as he seldom loses possession and so he allows a higher line of attack and defence. He brings the Balance to both our attacking and defensive play the likes of which we have not seen for some time.

For me he was my player of the season, admittedly this is mostly because I am biased towards wanting him to do well, but also because he has come on so much that we really missed him when he was out more than any other single player (I’m discounting the King as he was always likely to be out regularly).

Sure he’s not the exciting Welsh winger or goal poaching Russian that we love to love, and he’s not the ‘headline grabber’, nor will he get the crowd out of their seats. But, in terms of his overall ability, the effect he has on the game and just as importantly our balance and style of play, it looks like we’ve finally got a young English central midfielder around whom we can base a free flowing game of passing and movement – well passing anyway.

Hey, he might yet make the cut for the final 23 this summer. And I for one am hoping so for England’s sake, Rooney thrives on service and is often acknowledge for his ‘off the ball’ movement, just imagine what he could do with the sort of service that Hudd could give him from deep positions (now’s there a quote for some of you). Lennon (and Tottenham) has already benefitted this season, maybe England can too.

And to all those that wanted him sold 18 months ago I can only say ‘ner, ner, na, ner, ner’! Childish I know, but hey.......... 

.......Go forth and consider the above.