Tom Huddlestone did not expect to be named in the England squad on Thursday, but the very fact that he was being talked about in those terms, just five games into his new career at Hull City, tells him that his decision to leave Tottenham after more than eight years was the right one.
It was last November that Hull’s record £5.75m signing won the last of his four senior caps, in the defeat to Sweden in Stockholm, although for now he is enjoying being a first-team regular under Steve Bruce. Unless injuries intervene he will not be part of the squad for the two big World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. Should he be called up and play, he would set another Hull record: the club have never had a player of theirs win an England cap.
A player who has always polarised opinion, for many Huddlestone is a rare kind of cultured, passing midfielder who has often been under-appreciated. As we talk at the KC Stadium this week he points out that the three managers who have shown most faith in him – George Burley, Harry Redknapp and Bruce – are all British. “People have said I can’t play in a 4-4-2 but last time I had a full run in the team was a 4-4-2 under Redknapp,” he says. “I played 43 games and we finished fourth [2009-10].”
As for England, he says that there has always been scepticism about his type of player. “Throughout the years, England have had [similar types of players] but it is whether or not the manager at the time has wanted to play that type. Glenn Hoddle probably should have had double the caps he got. Matt Le Tissier [should have played more].
“Michael Carrick should have double the number of caps he has. He has played regularly at Manchester United for the last seven years, Champions League finals, Premier League titles, but he has 20-odd  caps. It doesn’t make sense. But if you want to keep possession there is no one better than Michael Carrick.”
Do the English struggle with that kind of player? “We have tried foreign coaches and it didn’t click with them either. I don’t think you can just make that accusation of the country. It might be a mixture of everything. Having the confidence to ignore the Press and the fans ... you see Spain, if they lose the ball, they still play the same. If an England player loses it they might shy away rather than going and getting it. The Spanish, the Germans, the Dutch are renowned for it.”
It was the right time, he says, to leave Spurs for ambitious Hull. They are eighth in the Premier League, having won their last two games against Newcastle and West Ham and face Aston Villa at home today with a spring in their step. Huddlestone is only 26 but he has had a decade as a professional, since his debut at Derby County as a 16-year-old prodigy.
“It would have been easier to stay at Tottenham,” he says. “I still had a couple of years left on my contract, so I could have sat there and played maybe every fifth or sixth game, with the amount of competitions they were involved in. But I just wanted to play as regularly as possible.” That he is, for now at least, a starter for Hull has made a big difference too. “Every player will tell you if you have confidence it adds an extra 20-25 per cent to your game.”
He missed most of Redknapp’s last season at Spurs, 2011-12, through injury and came back to make 28 appearances under Andre Villas-Boas last season. A caveat to that, he says, is that many were as a substitute. He had a run of games at the end of the season and started “11 or 12 in the middle of the season” but the rest of it was a frustration for him.
“I didn’t have that much dialogue with the manager regarding what would be happening this season,” he says. “I just knew there was a couple of clubs interested and when Tottenham accepted the bids it was clear what their thoughts were on the situation.”
Huddlestone was brought to the club as part of a generation of players that included Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Jenas and Gareth Bale. The fortunes of Bale and David Bentley, for instance, at Spurs could not be more contrasting but no one could doubt that, overall, the policy was a success, both on the pitch and financially. What Huddlestone did not anticipate was that on top of the sale of Bale to Real Madrid the club would clear out much of their young British talent, including academy graduates Steven Caulker, sold to Cardiff, and Jake Livermore, now on loan at Hull.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he says. “The Bale situation throughout the summer, it was going to happen eventually. When we came back this pre-season we were sort of 95 per cent sure. I think it took a lot [of attention] away from the other players moving. But, yeah, a lot of it was a shock – Scotty Parker [who went to Fulham], whenever he was fit, he seemed to play. Steven Caulker has played 30-plus games, been capped by England and is 21, so that was a bit of a surprise. Jake was similar to myself, hadn’t played much last season. We both just wanted to go out and play week-in, week-out in the Premier League.
“It’s a business nowadays. Since I’ve been at Tottenham, it seems Daniel Levy either offers you a new contract or they sell once you have a couple of years left [on a contract]. Having not started so many games last season, and having players like Sandro coming back to full fitness, it was fairly straightforward for the club to cash in on me.”
There was no hesitation on the club’s side? “That’s what the fans don’t really see, they class all the players as being disloyal to their clubs, like with Bale [leaving Spurs]. But on the other hand if you take someone like myself who has been injured for a while – or if you have a few bad games – the club are happy to get rid of you quickly. So I think it works both ways. The club have had a few high-profile players leave on a Bosman in the past, and I don’t think they were prepared to make that mistake again. The way the club is run is probably perfect and a great model for any other club that doesn’t want to get into debt.”
Villas-Boas had been happy for Huddlestone and Michael Dawson to leave the previous summer but both players had, to varying degrees, Huddlestone says, “forced their way back in”. “That was disappointing,” he says, “both of us having been there for such a long time and both having captained the club at different stages.”
Does Villas-Boas distrust English players? Huddlestone says he did not get that impression but concedes that change has been rapid at Spurs. “The manager has put his own print on the squad, and has got rid of quite a few English or British players. He is within his rights to do that, but the philosophy from when I first signed has totally gone through a 180-degree change.”
He points out that during the last international break there were 11 or 12 Hull players away on duty for their countries and he was one of only a few working at the training ground. “People have under-rated the squad,” he says. Looking at the players untried in the Premier League that Sunderland brought in this summer, he says, choosing between them and Hull was “a no-brainer”.
As for the hair, Huddlestone has promised to cut it off once he scores again – his last goal was for Spurs against Arsenal in April 2011. So far he has raised £12,000 for Cancer Research. “After that it will come off, as soon as my barber is available – that’s if he’s still speaking to me,” he says.
The first priority, he says, is keeping Hull in the Premier League, and perhaps finding a way back into England contention. You also suspect that Hull’s last two games of the month, in the league and then the Capital One Cup, will have special significance for him too: they are both at White Hart Lane against Tottenham.
My other life
When I signed I first stayed in a hotel with a lot of the new lads. Me, Jake [Livermore], Allan McGregor, Maynor Figueroa, Yannick Sagbo, Ahmed Elmohamady. There was no Sky Sports in the rooms so if you wanted to watch a game you had to sit in reception. It was all right for a couple of weeks to get to know the lads and find your bearings. I have got my own place now.
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