Tom Huddlestone has not been healthy and at his best for Tottenham Hotspur in months.
Had you told me at around January time this year that we would be missing Tom Huddlestone for most of the remaining months of the season and the beginning of the next, I would have thanked you politely for the advanced warning, and requested that you briefly cover your ears so my despairing groans wouldn't startle you too much. Around that time, I couldn't really conceive of a Spurs first team that wouldn't feature Big Tom lining up along side Luka Modric, the ballwinning holding midfielder/playmaker who was adept at launching attacks as he was at crushing them. By this point, he'd staked a claim at regular inclusion in the national team and captained his club against the reigning European Champions League champions, and our very own Kevin McCauley was vaunting him as the key to overcoming the titanic challenge of beating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
And then, his ankle happened. Having broken down in training in January with niggling in an area that had been persistently troublesome for him that season, he was ruled out all the way up to April. Anyone who watched the match in which he made his full return against Madrid at home not through their fingers pretending it wasn't all happening will know what happened next. Huddlestone looked sluggish, off the pace and completely unable to hold up possession or complete a pass. Though I initially wrote the performance off as merely one hitch on his struggle back to form, Tom never fully hit his best again for the rest of the season, barring one spectacular goal against Arsenal in that same month, ending his season with a whimper. From that point onwards, he's been out injured since - and during the break he's had from first team action, I've come to question whether he will really merit a place when he finally recovers.
In terms of cons, I can only cite two words: Parker, and Sandro. Both players perform a similar role to Tom with regards to their ballwinning abilities, and provide an imposing influence in the middle of the field. Further to this, however, I would argue that both have since their respective breaks into the first team staked a better claim to Tom's role than he has in recent seasons. For a start, both players are much, much more tenacious; between Parker's quiet, intense focus and Sandro's impetuous mad dog approach, both players are arguably far more inspiring and exciting assets to the squad than Huddlestone has ever been. Both can also be seen as more versatile in their superiority ability to drive forward attacks, in contrast to Tom, who at his worst has been criticized for his obelisk-y, sluggish style of play.
True, neither Parker nor Sandro can pass with anything near the precision and flair of Big Tom- equally however, as long as we hold onto Modric and van der Vaart is played in the only position he's comfortable with (sigh), I can't personally see why we really need a third playmaker in the middle in the field. In fact, I've been delighted with what Parker's brought to the side in terms of his propensity to keep things simple and make short passes, which I think bring a new dimension to a side that at times in recent months has seemed to lack the winning formula for success in the final third.
None of this is to suggest I don't still rate the Hudd as an important influence in the squad. If he hits his bets form again then I'll be the first one baying his return. But right now, with Parker's unbeatable presence and Sandro's inspiring mad streak, I just can't really visualize him pushing either of them out any time soon.