Tom Huddlestone: Spurs' team is so different, playing against them is now just another game
"It's been quiet here because there have only been seven or eight of us for most of the week," Tom Huddlestone tells FFT in a tone that suggests he too would rather have been somewhere else. During another international break in which Roy Hodgson has given Jack Wilshere on-the-job training as England's key creative midfielder, Huddlestone's been preparing to take on his old Spurs side with the Hull team he led into Europe via last season's FA Cup final.
By his own admission, the 27-year-old hasn't performed quite as well this season as last, and with Hull currently just two points off the drop zone, it's time to kick on...
Is it frustrating to hit an international break after a defeat like Hull's at Burnley last time out?
It can work both ways. Sometimes when you have a nightmare on a Saturday you want the next game to be on the Tuesday night so you can get straight back out there and try and put it right as soon as possible, but when you're in bad form it can be good to have a couple of full weeks to work on things on the training pitch and try and get it out your system that way.
Presumably, you would also have rather been elsewhere - have you been surprised not to get back into the England squad since joining the Tigers?
I have been a little surprised, to be honest. Not so much this season - I don't think I've started as well this season as I did last year - but certainly last season it was disappointing not to be called up . I haven't spoken to Roy Hodgson. I've not had any dealings with him or anybody at the FA since my last game against Sweden [in November 2012].
Last season, I started 35 of the league games and felt I was fairly consistent in my performances - my performance levels were maybe even at the most consistent they've been over a longer period of time - but I didn't get in. Whereas during my last season at Spurs, I played four or five matches after having been injured for 18 months, then I was back in the squad when I probably wasn't even fully fit.
If you look at that situation, it suggests he does [watch Hull far less]. I know Jake Livermore has had a similar situation; he wasn't playing that regularly at Spurs but got in the squad and made his debut, then he came to Hull and started playing well week-in and week-out, and he hasn't had a sniff. It does seem to be a factor, but I'd say playing every week is the most important thing on a personal level, so I've got no regrets with the decision I made to come here.
It's frustrating, but managers are paid to pick their squads. England's recent record has been fairly good, so you can't really argue with it.
As for your club manager, how does Steve Bruce, how does he compare to the other managers you’ve worked with? Does he do more of the tactical stuff than someone like Harry Redknapp or is there a similar kind of balance?
It's fairly similar. I think I’ve probably spoken to him [Steve Bruce] more as a person and on a one-to-one basis than I have any of my other managers in the ten years before that. In that respect, I think he’s very good.
I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves, to be honest. He’s taken Hull from one of the favourites for relegation in the Championship to a relatively safe side in the Premier League – staying up last season and to an FA Cup final, which was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I hope if we can cement our place in the Premier League again, he might start to get more credit than he has at the minute.
Having strengthened the squad in the summer, Hull probably haven’t start as well as you would have hoped. Can you put your finger on what it is that’s gone wrong?
The combination of us trying out some new tactical things and having quite a few new players still trying to fully understand the manager’s ideas means it might take a bit of time to all come together. But the league’s still tight, and there are obviously a lot of games left.
We’ve had a few decent performances, but there have been maybe three or four times when we were in winning positions and got pegged back. If we’d held on in a couple of those games we’d have been right up the league. I’m sure once we do fully click as a team and as a squad, we’ll do well and start climbing the table.
Despite your last two results being disappointing defeats (at home to Southampton and away to Burnley), before that you had two good draws at Arsenal and Liverpool - are there lessons from those games that stand you in good stead for this weekend's match against your former club, Tottenham?
Yeah, those were obviously two great results and probably unexpected by everybody on the outside, but we know we’ve got that resoluteness about us to dig in when we're up against it. We showed it last season – we made ourselves difficult to beat and we need to get that back for every game, alongside scoring more goals – the last couple of games, we haven’t posed a threat in that respect. Defensively, I think we’ve been fairly good – I just think everyone had an off-day at Burnley, really.
You must have some fairly fond memories of your time at Spurs, is there one moment that sticks out for you as the best?
I enjoyed my time there so much it’s difficult to single one thing out. There’s a couple – obviously winning the Carling Cup [against Chelsea in 2008] was a highlight, as it was my first trophy. But equally, the season where I was one of the first names on the team sheet and we managed to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League was an incredible time. The playing in the Champions League, and captaining the team when we beat Inter Milan, who were the holders at the time, was probably the highlight of my career there.
Of the goals I scored, probably the best for technique and difficulty was away to Man City [in 2006/07] – that was extra special, what with it being my first Premier League goal as well. As for the most important, I’d say the one I scored one the season we qualified for the Champions League [2009/10], two or three games from the end of the season against Bolton. It was a tight game that we won 1-0, so it was a massive goal at the time – very important. I think it was a corner and the ball came out to [Benoit] Assou-Ekotto. I was screaming at him to lay it off for me to shoot – it was slightly in front of me but luckily I managed to get a decent enough strike on it and it flew in the near, top corner.
What will your emotions be when you’re playing against Tottenham on Sunday? Is it difficult playing against a team you have so much history with?
It definitely was last season, particularly away from home when we went there early last season - being in the away team at White Hart Lane was a big shock and a change. But I think, as with the home game up here last season, the game on Sunday will just be a normal game for me. It might be a bit strange, but a lot of their team now are players I’ve never played with and don’t know - they’ve had a lot of ins and outs over the last two summers - so that’ll make it easier.
What have you made of them this season? Are there any weaknesses there you’ll look to exploit?
Yeah, I think there are weaknesses in every team and Tottenham are no different. I think they’re quite similar to us. They probably haven’t had the start to the season that they would have liked or perhaps expected. They've possibly had a similar problem with having a few new players, especially since they’ve changed managers as well. He [Mauricio Pochettino] will have a different philosophy to what a lot of the players have been used to before – the way he wants to keep the ball and close the ball down - so I guess it could take time for them to buy into that as well.