Perhaps predictably, Tom Huddlestone kept with modern tradition this week and peddled the line he will have nothing to prove when returning to face his former employers Tottenham on Sunday.
Huddlestone, a pleasant and thoughtful individual, was never likely to rock the boat. Such has been his desire to maintain bonhomie following his exit, he even took to Twitter soon after his arrival at the KC Stadium to redress exaggerated national newspaper headlines he had left White Hart Lane with a grudge.
Feel mis-quoted, enjoyed my season with AVB and my whole time with spurs. If you read the quotes you get a clear picture, not the headline— Tom Huddlestone (@Huddz8) August 15, 2013
There is, quite apparently, a great respect for the club and the supporters he left behind in August after eight years of service, but any attempt from Huddlestone to dilute the significance of this weekend’s reunion is surely futile.
Like no other game this season, Hull City’s trip to North London means everything to him.
Just 10 weeks ago, Huddlestone was deemed unsuitable for Tottenham’s evolution under Andre Villas-Boas. Accepting the Tigers’ £5.25m bid on the eve of the new season, it was Spurs who initiated the separation two years before the end of the midfielder’s contract.
Huddlestone, of course, was only too happy to leave once the indifference of his employers became clear and appears destined for instant vindication with a far greater season than he could ever have hoped for in the shadows of White Hart Lane.
Sunday, however, is where he can show Spurs what they will miss, where he can highlight the error of their ways.
Huddlestone insists the only point he has to prove is with himself, but should he make Villas-Boas sit uncomfortably on the bench he learned to know so well then all the better.
Tottenham are well aware of his the threat heading their way this weekend. Huddlestone made over 200 appearances in the white of Spurs. Though it took him time to settle when moving from Derby County as an 18-year-old, his class was key to the side that qualified for Champions League football under Harry Redknapp in 2009-10. The captaincy was reward for his emergence, including in a famous win over European champions Inter Milan at White Hart Lane the following season.
Spurs will wonder what might have been if injuries had not been so cruel on Huddlestone, but his exit this summer will forever leave that question hanging in the air.
Not that City, or Huddlestone for that matter, are complaining. Although Steve Bruce has likened his marquee new arrival as a “big fish in a small pond” of East Yorkshire, a place slap-bang in the centre of a new stage suits the 26-year-old well. If the expectation is now a burden, he shoulders it like a child’s rucksack.
Sunday will be Huddlestone’s eighth consecutive Premier League start. An unremarkable figure, yet his longest unbroken sequence in this division since December 2009. In the thick of that run came an England debut in the 1-0 defeat to Brazil, and it is regular football that can again nudge Huddlestone back on the international stage. A more arduous task at the KC Stadium rather than White Hart Lane, but far from impossible for an individual of his talents.
These are the games that can get Huddlestone talked about for a trip to Brazil next summer. Match the quality of his former club this weekend and a fifth England cap will be another step closer. Proving a point to Spurs would prove a timely point to Roy Hodgson ahead of next month’s friendlies.
Huddlestone will be a watched man upon his return to North London in a fixture that appears a tall order for Steve Bruce’s men.
Asked to do without the injured Allan McGregor and Danny Graham, and the ineligible Jake Livermore, three of last week’s starters in defeat to Everton will be absent. Steve Harper, Yannick Sagbo and David Meyler are all capable, but a thin squad is close to wearing transparent. With James Chester and Robert Koren still out with long-term injuries, Bruce can ill-afford to leave White Hart Lane having suffered further damage.
Sunday’s game is the first of a formidable double-header away to Spurs. Bruce would almost certainly swap progress in the Capital One Cup fourth-round tie next Wednesday for a point in the Premier League. Success in both games is a long, long shot when assessing the depth of the squads, even when considering Spurs’ successful Europa League jaunt to Moldova on Thursday.
Had Huddlestone stuck around at Tottenham, the 2-0 win at Sherriff was exactly the type of game he would have built his week around. He felt he deserved more when leaving to join City in August and Sunday will be his chance to prove it as much to Villas-Boas.