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Over recent years, Tottenham Hotspur have developed a reputation for nurturing through their young, home-grown stars led by the resurgent rise of the irrepressible Harry Kane. Under Mauricio Pochettino, this reputation has only been enhanced as he has shown a willingness to place his trust in youth throughout his career in England. It is a policy which on the whole has reaped rich rewards, with Harry Winks emerging this season as yet another star.
The break-through of Winks has been somewhat of an interminable journey, as the youngster seems to have been around the first-team squad forever. Winks made his initial Spurs debut towards the end of 2014 in the Europa League with a fleeting substitute appearance against FK Partizan after training with the first team squad for the majority of the season. However, it would be over a full year from his debut until he’d make his inaugural Premier League bow, when Winks was brought on for the final moments of Spurs draw with Liverpool in 2016.
Despite the protracted wait for a Premier League outing, 2016 would prove to be somewhat of a breakthrough for Winks as he would go on to impress in his first start, scoring his first Tottenham goal in a thrilling derby win over West Ham. He would go on to make a total of 21 Premier League appearances, with fans being treated to their first prolonged view of a player who had long-held admirers from insiders at the club as he progressed and developed through the age-groups at youth level. Injury would curtail his season in April, but his exposure to the elite level had helped elevate awareness of his impressive passing range and tranquil composure in the middle of the park.
Since impressing in his break-through Premier League season, Winks has constantly seemed to be on the periphery of the Spurs midfield, often obstructed by the array of international talent on the books in North London. The added complication of a recurring ankle injury has also been a hindrance for Winks, as he has battled with the likes of Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele and Moussa Sissoko for a spot in the Spurs engine room. Although competition for places is fierce Winks is able to offer a different option for Pochettino. Winks may not have the defensive solidarity of Eric Dier or the exciting, driving runs of Sissoko, but his calmness and comfort on the ball is an insurance policy for Spurs. His constant movement to make himself available for the ball is an invaluable aspect of Spurs ability to work the ball out from the back and through the lines, with his vision making him as adequate at aiding his team to advance up the pitch as he is at retaining possession.
Tottenham’s stance in the transfer market this year has opened the door for Winks to make more of an impression now he is seemingly over his injury problems, with Pochettino and Daniel Levy electing not to make any signings this year. Winks has made the most of this scenario, with his 23 appearances in the Premier League so far this season meaning he has featured in 88.44% of Spurs Premier League games this term. It appears this term that Winks has stepped from the fringes into prominence, with Pochettino placing more and more trust and responsibility at the feet of the boyhood Spurs fan.
Pochettino has challenged Winks to improve his offensive influence, stating his desire to see Winks assert himself more in games. Speaking to The Telegraph last month, Pochettino said:
“We were talking in the last few weeks that it is something he needs to improve, arrive in the opponent’s box and try to score more goals.”
He was speaking after Winks had popped up with his first Spurs goal since that strike against West Ham, snatching an injury time winner for a Spurs squad ravaged by injury. During the recent episode of injuries to key attacking stars such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli with the added complication of Son being absent on international duty, Winks has made his efforts to try to help fill the attacking void. Despite sitting in a deeper midfield role, Winks has contributed a total of 7 shots this season, with 3 being on target including his winner against Fulham. This might not sound the most prolific, but when compared to his 16 league appearances last year wielding just 3 shots, all off target, it’s clear to see Winks is trying to heed his managers advice.
The statistics behind Winks appearances this season are further evidence of his enhanced influence in the Spurs team this year, almost doubling his total number of passes from 642 to 1238 and seeing his average number of passes per match rise to 53.83% from 40.13% when compared to last year. Although Winks has more minutes under his belt this term, these statistics shouldn’t be taken lightly as Winks continues his development aiming to grow into more of a ‘complete’ midfielder. His role in a Tottenham team which is confident and adventurous in possession, aiming to play an expansive game passing through the lines isn’t one which should be overlooked.
In an era where the national team is crying out for players who are comfortable both on the ball as well as retaining it, Winks seems to be tailor-made for a prolonged international career with England. He has already made a handful of promising cameos for England and boss Gareth Southgate is known to be a fan, so it is apparent more caps will follow. His seemingly growing confidence both on the ball and in terms of influencing games is benefiting from a flourishing learning environment under Pochettino, who is placing his trust in Winks to be the sturdy foundation upon which his midfield is built. Further evolving from his natural technical ability, the extended minutes and sustained exposure to Premier League football this term have undoubtedly allowed Winks to begin to fulfil the potential that has been long-heralded from many inside the club, which should be a substantial reward for both Tottenham and England for the many years ahead.