Tom Huddlestone has been one of the main beneficiaries of Tottenham Hotspur's revival under Harry Redknapp, and the signs that he was going to enjoy life with his new manager were there from day one.
Under the previous manager, Juande Ramos, Huddlestone and others had been put on a strict no-sauce, no-sugar diet. It had seen him shed pounds, but had left him pining for a bit of ketchup with his chicken. Redknapp replaced Ramos in October 2008, and legend has it that on his first day he slapped a bottle of tomato ketchup on the table and said: "I hear you've been hungry, lads."
Under the more relaxed approach of Redknapp, a slim Huddlestone has started to deliver on the potential that had marked him out as a future England player. The defensive midfielder has cemented his place in the Spurs team in the past year, and is looking to build on his three England caps, starting with the Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro on 12 October.
Redknapp is more concerned about a player's ability with the ball than what he had for dinner. The Tottenham manager said: "If you can't pass the ball, it makes no difference what you eat. If they feed you spaghetti it does not make you a good footballer. I have seen players eat all sorts. I am old school.
"I have seen players who run around for 90minutes and they eat steak and kidney pie, chips, peas, whatever, two and a half hours before kick-off. Everyone is different. It is great that we have fitness people now. But if you can't pass the ball straight ..."
Huddlestone was selected for the World Cup preliminary 30-man squad, but missed out on the final 23. He was also overlooked by Fabio Capello for the August friendly with Hungary when the manager went elsewhere for young faces to lift the post-South Africa gloom.
Huddlestone has pinpointed two areas that could advance his cause. Playing regularly in the Champions League is one ambition he is currently ticking off his to-do list; scoring more often is the next target, after just six Premier League goals in his five years at Spurs.
"I'd like to chip in with more goals and if I cement my place in the starting XI at Tottenham then it gives me a better chance," he said. "I just missed out on the World Cup. It was disappointing but Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry went before me. Three of those play in the Champions League, season in and season out. That's what cements their place in the England squad. So if I can play a lot of games for Spurs this season and we can progress [in the Champions League], it just gives me more ammunition to get into the squad and stay there."
Redknapp, whose side face Aston Villa at White Hart Lane today, said Huddlestone improved the moment he was made to feel at home in the team. "He feels important now," Redknapp said. "He knows he is an importantpart of the way we like to play football so his confidence is high – and if that is the case, you go out and perform well."
Huddlestone faces a possible Champions League ban after Uefa said it was looking into the incident on Wednesday in which the Tottenham midfielder appeared to elbow FC Twente's Marc Janko in the face.
Redknapp said. "It's not like Tom, he's not at all an aggressive player. It looked like he caught him with an elbow. Whether he meant to do it, I'm not so sure. Hopefully, nothing will come of it and we can all move on."