White Hart Lane singing, “He’s one of our own” is nothing new. Fans’ favourite Harry Kane has heard it sung about him for two and a half years now. The song brings with it a sense of pride and entitlement that only a Tottenham academy product can receive from the fans. Under Mauricio Pochettino, there has been no shortage of chances given to young, often English, players to make their mark for Spurs. Tom Carroll, Andros Townsend, Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason have all come and gone, but something about Harry Winks seems different – an indication that he is one for the longer term.
Pochettino giving young players a chance in the ‘deeper end’ is nothing new. Mason was given his league debut but at Arsenal, Bentaleb was entrusted with the holding midfield role at the age of 20 and Townsend started the 2015 League Cup Final alongside both the aforementioned academy products. However, these can be said to have been at a time where Pochettino had not yet got his feet under the table at Hotspur Way, a case of using the options available to him that were willing to buy into his philosophy and ideas.
However, the introduction of Winks at 2-0 versus Chelsea in January opened many peoples’ eyes to the role the Hemel Hempstead-born midfielder could play in the coming years. His only appearance in the 2015-16 season came towards the end of a 3-1 Europe League win versus FK Qarabag at White Hart Lane. This season, the young midfielder has come on leaps and bounds to overtake the likes of Mason, Bentaleb and Carroll – all of whom have now left Spurs – to become Mousa Dembélé’s heir apparent in midfield. The Belgian is yet to hit the heights of the form he showed in Tottenham’s title challenge last season, but Winks has thrived in a season where Pochettino has given him more than his fair share of chances.
Not only has Winks been brought on to see games out, he’s been entrusted with a handful of starts – 11 to be precise – with two of these coming in the Champions League. Bar his namesake Kane, Spurs fans have yet to see such trust being shown in a youngster, especially this soon, under Pochettino. His first Premier League start, at home to West Ham, will forever be remembered for his goal and exuberant celebration – but Pochettino had not just thrown him in to give him a chance, as previous managers may have done.
Winks brings a sense of calm and control to the Spurs midfield – but also provides energy and vertical movement to Tottenham’s play. His pass accuracy in his 20 league matches this season stands at an incredible 91%, level only with Dembélé throughout Spurs’ team, with an average pass distance of 17m – showing he’s not merely a safe passer, an issue many had with Carroll during his time at White Hart Lane. His Champions League pass completion stood at an even more impressive 94%, in two starts and two substitute appearances. A frustration that numerous Spurs fans have with Dembélé is his lack of desire to move forward, or at least pass forward. Whilst this often allows Spurs to regain control following a spell of pressure, his attempts to start – or lead – counter attacks are few and far between. The most glaring example of his obvious ability to do so was at the Emirates Stadium, where he won a penalty following a long run through the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. Winks already seems more willing to burst forward, as shown versus Southampton last weekend, where he shrugged off several challenges to get Tottenham forward again. Suggestions that this could be mere youthful enthusiasm and adrenaline are wide of the mark as this has been a trait of Winks throughout his youth career – and those who watched him in the latter years of his development will know of his ability to break the lines whilst maintaining control of the ball.
His intelligence has shone on numerous occasions, too. At 2-1 up at home to Everton, with Kane substituted off, Winks’ quick thinking and passing ability set up Dele Alli to put Spurs two up and, despite Everton pulling it back to 3-2, Pochettino was eager to point out that “it was a great goal” to give Spurs all three points, which saw the Argentine celebrate wildly on the touchline. On his debut against West Ham, Winks was also important in the build up to the chance that led to his goal. Upon losing out in midfield, he tenaciously won the ball back, found Christian Eriksen and charged into the box, seeing him find a yard of space to score past Darren Randolph.
Despite his small size, Winks has also shown more than enough metal to fit into Tottenham’s side – one that is largely occupied by men over 6 foot tall. Winks, at 5ft10in, isn’t far behind – but he doesn’t let this stop him from getting stuck in. In his substitute appearance versus Southampton, Winks was keen to square up to Sofiane Boufal after the Moroccan had fouled him, prompting the “he’s one of our own” chant to ring around the Lane.
Whilst he’s yet to receive an England cap, it won’t be long before Gareth Southgate is picking up the phone should Winks continue the level of performances he’s shown, especially in recent months. His combination of tidy and incisive passes gives Spurs a solid foundation in midfield, allowing for either ball retention or quick counter attacks; whilst he isn’t afraid to try his luck from distance – another frustration with Dembélé. If he can add to the number of chances he creates, while maintaining his passing ability and defensive tenacity, it may not be long before he finds himself ahead of the ageing Belgian in Pochettino’s pecking order. He’s endeared himself to many Spurs fans, now it’s time to see whether he follows in Kane’s footsteps or falls away like many before him.