At the age of 34, some eyebrows have been raised about Tom Huddlestone’s return to Hull City, a club at which the midfielder enjoyed some memorable moments, moments which were etched into Tigers folklore.
Having not played for 18 months, his last outing coming somewhat fittingly against the Tigers for Derby County at Pride Park in January last year, Huddlestone has been a victim of devastating impact felt in football by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, a year and a half on, the ex-City, Tottenham and England star is back on his old stomping ground and looking to make up for lost time, and former teammate Curtis Davies believes that Huddlestone has more than enough left in the tank to be a success at his old club as they embark on a first season back in the Championship following the club’s first league title in 55 years.
Some observers have suggested Huddlestone’s languid style may not be suited to the high tempo pressing game McCann swears by, suffice to say Davies does not subscribe to that theory.
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“Its horses for courses. If Grant’s plan is to high press in the Championship it may be a little more difficult, with all due respect,” Davies exclusively told Hull Live.
“It’s all good in League One playing a certain way and it worked, so fair play, but I’m sure Grant will look to use his style as much as possible.
“I know Grant will be thinking as a brilliant footballer himself, sat in that midfield dictating games without running around too much, he’ll know there’s going to be games where you’re going to need to hold onto the ball.”
While City’s quality in the press worked perfectly at League One level, against better quality opposition in the Championship, Davies feels McCann’s men will have to adapt and find different ways of playing to combat the styles of others.
“It’s not just about ratting and high pressing and trying to win it high up, there’s going to be times when we need to hold onto the ball and try to suck teams out, and I think Tom Huddlestone’s the perfect foil for that,” he said, before going onto give an insight into why the pair worked so well together in their two hundred plus games on the same pitch playing for the Tigers and Derby County.
“I played two hundred odd games with Tom and him playing in front of me in that holding midfield role with me as the centre half, there’s no better player to give the ball to.
“He will take the ball at risk and under pressure to help you out, he’ll communicate and if you build a relationship with him, it’s an unbelievable partnership to have because you can cover him if he’s just short of getting to the man, at the same time you know that if you’re in trouble you can give him the ball and he’ll look after it, that’s invaluable.
“That’s the next level, you’re going up to the Championship – I’m not saying the level is going to be astronomically higher than League One, of course not, I’ve done it myself, but there are going to be more teams that say ‘you want to do a high press, well we’ll play around you’ whereas in League One there will have been more teams to miss out the high press, and play in the channel, that’s the difference.
“More teams will back themselves in the Championship playing their way, more teams are trying to play football.
“If you go to Fulham and try a high press they’ll play around you, if you go to other places they will.”
City’s squad is light on experience at the top level with only 600 games between them in the second tier and Richie Smallwood, the ex-Blackburn skipper has over 200 of those.
What it doesn’t lack for is youthful exuberance and energy, factors which can be a positive for the Tigers, especially with Huddlestone in a midfield unit which contains the likes of George Honeyman and Greg Docherty, both of whom boast a willingness to run all day long and into the evening, too.
Davies argues that little has changed in the way Huddlestone operates from the first day he signed from Wolves for £5m in 2013.
“Tom hasn’t got the legs a young player will have, but if you’ve got him sitting and plugging and getting on the ball then he’s the perfect player to have,” he explained.
“I’d argue that when he signed for Hull City in the first place, Tom wasn’t the box to box midfielder.
“Tom is a fit guy, he can get up and down. He had David Meyler and Jake Livermore alongside him that were doing all that for him.
“There’s different aspects to the game, there are those who can run all day long.
“Going back to David Meyler, he will run all day long. He will get the ball, he can find himself in goalscoring positions because of his energy, he’s a good passer of the ball and looks after it well, but the level that Tom Huddlestone brings to the game, he’s got the nine out of 10 aspects.
“He’s got the stuff others can’t do and that’s the difference.
“There’s a lot of people out there who can run and get about the field, that side is the easiest side of football.
“There’s not many people who can do what Tom Huddlestone does, left foot, right foot, 60-yard passes, faded passes, inside and outside of the foot.
“He’s a magician, in my opinion.
“I know I’m trying to sell him like I’m his agent or something, but that’s how strongly I feel about him.
“He’s got the 90 percent, the one in 10 that can do it, Tom can and that’s the difference.
“I’d argue, with all due respect to the other midfielders there, the stuff that Tom does, they won’t be able to do either.”
With George Honeyman expected to miss the opening weeks of the season with an ankle problem and talks over Regan Slater’s move from Sheffield United still ongoing, City remain a body or two short in the engine room, and Davies is in little doubt about the quality Huddlestone can bring.
“Talking about that him not being able to run, I think that’s a bit much because he can run.
“Ultimately, he’s never going to be that box to box midfielder, and City fans will know he was never that when we signed him anyway.
“He’s fit, and he knows where to position himself on the pitch to make sure he’s not outrun and out of position.
“Imagine what he’ll be like when he’s played five, 10, 15 games and he’s back in the rhythm.”
A deal is yet to be concluded, with Huddlestone continuing to work his way back to full fitness, though Davies is convinced there would be a desire to rekindle the love affair between City and their former son.
“His technical ability is unmatched, you can’t lose that. It shows what he can bring moving forward is going to be good for a football club, whether it’s Hull City or not,” Davies said.
“I think if there’s a deal to be done then Tom would welcome it, I think it would good on a lot of fronts.
“Having Tom as a player first and foremost, he’s a good player and I believe he brings something different to the squad.
“Politically, I think it would be good for the fans and it’ll be a nice welcome back for one of their old heroes and the experience of having a player that has been there and done that, been promoted with the club from that division.
“I think that’s invaluable.
“Looking around our Derby squad at the moment, take the trialists out of it and there’s no experience.
“There’s literally Craig Forsyth and David Marshall, that’s it.
“Sometimes, as much as you can have a really good young team and I do respect that, sometimes that experience does help when someone has been there, done that and worn the t-shirt and able to help those young lads with what’s expected now.
“Particularly after a successful season, I know City fans are happy to be back – there will be some who are realistic, but there are some who will think that because of how the league finished we’re going to kick on again.
“It’s not that easy, it’s having a player in there who knows the mentality of City fans but also what it takes to get this club out of this division.”
There might be a way to go yet before Tom Huddlestone pulls on a Hull City shirt in the Championship, but the case for his permanent return is certainly a compelling one, and given the club’s financial situation, it’s hard to picture a more decorated performer being available to help their cause.