A couple of reports have linked Tom Huddlestone to a £5m move to Wearside, which our Sunderland blog Roker Report passed along earlier in the day. The Sunderland Echo and Evening Standard are reporting that a move could be close, and on the surface, this passes the smell test.
£5m sounds like the right price for Huddlestone. Sunderland are in need of central midfield help, and they could definitely use a good passer. A mid-table club is about Huddlestone's level right now. It ticks a lot of the right boxes.
However, it's tough to see exactly how Huddlestone fits into Paolo Di Canio's side. Even when Huddlestone was at his best, contributing to a top-four, then Champions League side, he was a player that needed to be covered for. He's always lacked mobility, and with the exception of games where Wilson Palacios was at his absolute best, that lack of mobility was regularly exposed.
Sunderland are about to sign Emanuele Giaccherini, a player who has been utilized as a left winger and wingback in recent years, but who has played his best football in Serie A and for the Italian national team as an attacking midfielder or second striker. They've also signed up Jozy Altidore, a big and athletic striker who can operate up top by himself, but is definitely better with a second striker underneath him.
Di Canio played a bit of 4-4-2 last season, but mostly stuck to variations of 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1. This was fairly consistent with his time at Swindon. Nothing about Di Canio's signings or past tactics suggests that he's willing to go to a three-man center of midfield, which is likely what's needed to get the best out of Huddlestone while preventing the team he's in from giving up simple counter attacks through the center. Huddlestone is exceptionally slow for a Premier League central midfielder, and while his technical tackling ability and positioning are adequate, they're certainly not good enough to make up for his lack of pace and agility.
If Di Canio is planning on playing Huddlestone in a two-man center of midfield, he's absolutely mad unless he finds a borderline world class box-to-box monster of an athlete to play next to him. At the moment, Sunderland don't have that player. A two-man midfield partnership of Huddlestone and either Lee Cattermole or Jack Colback would likely be disastrous.
Sure, it's possible that Di Canio has been convinced that Huddlestone can function in a two-man midfield in the Premier League, but it's hard to believe he's that naive. All of the signings he's completed to this date have made a lot of sense. I'll be very surprised if he goes out of character and signs a player that doesn't fit into his current team structure whatsoever.