Before we get into the specifics of Terrific Tom and Terrible Tottenham, and even before I throw more unnecessary alliteration at you, I feel it’s only appropriate to say a few words on our newly minted “Teams We Loathe With Players We Love” feature series. We’re excited about these pieces that will give our writers the rare opportunity to salute the skill of an otherwise disdained rival. I mean, most of us like to think we’re the enlightened sports fans who can recognize the skill and manner of an opponent and salute him, but aside from a couch-to-couch comment made to a single buddy in your living room, when does one actually have an open forum to commend and admire the hated other?
Example? Sure, I’m feeling generous. How about super-talented Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice? The guy is a monster of a receiver, and I’m not just talking physically. Rice has every tool one could want in an NFL wideout, and freakishly, he’s had them all since he was 18 years old. Speed, size, moves, hands. It’s all there. He’s also gotten better in each of the three years he’s been in the league, and is NOT some byproduct of Brett Favre arriving in the Twin Cities last year as short sighted media types and novice NFL fans would have you believe. Rice is the type of guy that could become the best receiver in the game within the next two years, and he’s got the last the name to boot.
So it’s cool for me gush a little to the other Chicago Bears fans at the bar when Rice beats the beloved Charles “Peanut” Tillman to the corner, then readjusts in the air to make a spectacular touchdown grab, right? Don’t be silly. Not even if he’s on my fantasy team. I wouldn’t even speak too kindly of Sidney to my fellow Gator fans here in Gainesville, lest they bring up the schooling he put on the secondary in 2005 when a new-to-the-SEC Urban Meyer got smacked by Rice’s Gamecocks in South Carolina.
So as you can see, we’re rightfully excited to level some praise on our constant foes in these “Teams We Loathe With Players We Love” features. We’re following one rule in writing these pieces, and for good reason. No writing about guys that play for the U.S. National Team or used to play for a club that you root for. We can’t have Puck writing about Tim Howard who happens to be a Yank on a team that owns his soul, and Raf and I will fight the urge to write an ode together on the merits of Yossi Benayoun, despite the fact that we’re now into the High Holy Days.
Okay, onto the hate!
Obligatory/Cursory “Why I Hate Tottenham Hotspur” Paragraph:
I’m a West Ham United fan, that’s probably all I have to say, but I’ll expound a little for fun. Both West Ham and the Spuds are London football clubs with rich traditions of exciting and attacking play. That’s about where the similarities end. The cultures of the two clubs are at opposite ends of the spectrum. United is a blue collar outfit based in east London, originally comprised of workers from the Thames Ironworks. The Hammer fans are loud, crude, and will roast (nay, broil) any player who has the gall to move on to greener pastures: charming I know. On the other hand, Tottenham is a club that embraces high culture, intellectualism, and its Jewish identity. Pretentious much? I could squawk about my academic accomplishments and identity as one of the chosen people, but then I’d be the obnoxious douche at the party, and that I am not. Rather, I’m a West Ham fan, and as such I get to watch the manager who groomed some of English soccer’s biggest stars at Upton Park play Benedict Arnold at White Hart Lane.
Moving on…because it’s awfully warm on the bitter bus.
In my first memories of watching Tom Huddlestone he was accurately putting the ball onto Dimitar Berbatov’s head and feet over and over again. It was like watching the real life depiction of what the collective English imagination thought the Beckham/Crouch combo was going to look like in the ’06 World Cup. This young English kid was taking every opportunity to make the ever aloof Bulgarian look world class. Sir Alex Ferguson was into it, but he probably bought the wrong dude.
Berbatov transferred to Man U a couple years ago, and since then all Tom Huddlestone’s done is weight lift and kick ass. Hud’s turned himself from a promising young boy with good but underrated service into a midfield monster with one of the most threatening long ball’s in the Premiership. He stands 6’3’’ and is built like the bouncer at your favorite bar (not the skinny mean one, the quiet one who looks like a Division Two linebacker and always stands with his arms crossed). When it rains in north London Tom Huddlestone is bench pressing, and it rains in north London A LOT.
The Englishman uses his size to great advantage, bullying opposing attackers off the ball, keeping possession in traffic and in the face of challenges, and providing an effective security blanket for Tottenham’s stable of attack-only midfielders. Hud has also improved his shooting skills, and should now be in the conversation with the likes of Cesc Fábregas over which EPL player has the best long range skill set when taking passing, shooting, set pieces, and the run-of-play all into account. Add this to the fact that he’s built like a bigger Jamie Carragher and you’ve got one badass athlete. Huddlestone’s a funky elongated kicking style away from being the soccer equivalent to Tim Tebow.
But while Tebow enjoys golden boy status wherever he goes, Tom seems to get overlooked well more than he should. Admittedly Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard are the darlings of England’s current squad, but Theo Walcott is the already anointed special one in what we’ll call Huddlestone’s “national team class.” Even at his position of central midfield, English managers, the FA, and the media continually look elsewhere before begrudgingly considering our man Tom. Maybe because the image of what is essentially the quarterback of the England midfield isn’t normally a half-black guy that looks like he could crush your skull. Or maybe because “smart guy” media types got it in their head at some point that his skills et was lacking, and haven’t noted the drastic improvements. So Tom has to keep proving himself. He may not have made Fabio Capello’s final World Cup roster, but did finally secure his place in Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham squad ahead of Wilson Palacios, helping the team qualify for the Champions League. I’m sure he’ll have to beat out every thin young English center mid that looks the part (Mark Noble?) over the course of the next ten years, but Huddlestone is a man who’s up for the challenge. He should be used to it by now right?
I hate the Mickey Mouse team that play at the Lane with all my Hart, but I get a little excited every time I see Huddlestone thrill from long range, unless he’s doing it to the Hammers of course. One quick thought before I pour myself the long awaited first bourbon drink of the night: Long Range Assist + Rocketed Goal From Distance + One Damn Hard Legal Tackle = Huddlestone Hat Trick? Maybe not quite yet, but “yet” just might be the operative word.
Jon Levy is a co-founder and Senior Writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Twitter at TYAC_Jon. Also, his beloved Chicago Bears begin their march to the Super Bowl Sunday.