It is easy to forget that Harry Winks had just three top-flight starts to his name when the 2017/18 Premier League campaign got under way back in August. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was included in Mauricio Pochettino’s XI for the first time in the top flight in the 3-2 triumph over West Ham United last November, before going on to begin both victories over Burnley in December and April, but most of his appearances last term came as a substitute.
Indeed, Winks came off the bench 18 times in the league in 2016/17, including a cameo against Manchester City – who Spurs face for the first time this season on Saturday – at the Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s side delivered one of their standout showings of the season back in January, when Tottenham could easily have fallen 4-0 behind inside the first 55 minutes. Some profligate finishing meant the visitors were only 2-0 down by that stage, however, and Pochettino’s men ultimately earned a point thanks to goals from Dele Alli and Son Heung-min.
It would be a stretch to say that the introduction of Winks changed the game – Spurs had already halved the deficit by the time the youngster entered the fray in the 65th minute – but the midfielder certainly had a positive effect on his team. Having been overwhelmed by City’s combination of sharp passing and heavy pressing for much of the match, Winks brought some much-needed composure to the side, completing all 13 of his passes and helping Tottenham regain a foothold. It was the first – but certainly not the last – notable demonstration of his maturity, intelligence and quality in a big game.
Even more impressive was Winks’ display in October’s 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, a coming-of-age performance in an encounter which helped Spurs beat los Blancos to top spot in Group H of the Champions League. Utterly unfazed by either the occasion or the surroundings, Winks was diligent without the ball and composed with it, completing 41 of his 45 passes and almost invariably making the right decision in and out of possession.
More recently, Winks was not Tottenham’s best player in the 5-1 victory over Stoke City last weekend – that was, by some distance, the superb Son – but he again showed why he is now a vital cog in the Spurs machine. Only midfielder partner Mousa Dembele made more passes than Winks, who kept the ball moving and continually fed the likes of Harry Kane, Alli, Son and Christian Eriksen ahead of him. It is not just the 21-year-old’s pass execution which catches the eye but also his pass selection, with Winks generally picking the right ball at the right moment.
Another attribute which stands out is the England international’s ability to resist the opposition press – something which will be particularly important against City this weekend. Winks’ touch and awareness are both excellent, and he is adept at taking the ball away from opponents and preventing them from robbing possession in the centre of the park.
“I can’t thank him [Pochettino] enough for what he’s done for me, in terms of giving me an opportunity, he told this writer in an interview for FourFourTwo in August. “I know it is difficult nowadays for a manager to give young players an opportunity, especially in the Premier League – such a cut-throat industry – so it is tough to give trust to young players. For the manager to give you an opportunity like he has… I have got nothing but admiration for him.
“I always have that excitement when I play for Tottenham,” he added. “Whenever I go out on the pitch I give it my all, because I am a fan but also it is just the way I am as a player. I try to give 100 per cent in every session and match I play, especially for the team I support. You want to do really well, you want to help out. It is a club I will always enjoy playing for when I get the opportunity.”
Such remarks only serve to further endear Winks to Spurs supporters, but the most pleasing thing for those who follow the club is the fact that the midfielder is now a first-team regular on merit.
By Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.