It’s increasingly rare for the top Premier League clubs to bring through homegrown players and so, when one looks likely to emerge, fans quickly take to them.
Harry Winks has been a Tottenham Hotspur fan since he was a child, and on the periphery of the first-team for the past few years.
Now 22, he’s at an age where players usually see their game start to come together, so our friends at Football Whispers have taken a look at whether Winks can make the leap and become a permanent member of the starting XI this season.
Injury disrupted Harry Winks’ 2018 at a time when regular first-team football was in his grasp. His nine league starts last term were a step up from the three the previous campaign, but they could have been even more.
Now, having recovered from ankle surgery, the 22-year-old is ready to make his mark again.
“It was really good to get back out on the pitch against Fulham,” he said back in August. “It’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been working hard over the last few months to get fit and get back out there and to do that, play back in the Premier League and see the team win, it’s a great feeling.”
For Tottenham, as well as for Winks, it’s a good time for the midfielder to be returning. Victor Wanyama has been suffering from a recurring knee injury while Mousa Dembele doesn’t look the same superb player he was in seasons past. So with Spurs’ previously dominant central midfield on the wane it’s the perfect moment for the English youngster to shine.
Keeping close to coach
It’s been clear from the start that Mauricio Pochettino wants to use Winks more regularly, it’s just a matter of timing.
Winks revealed last year that Pochettino has been a fan since the Argentine arrived at the club in 2014, when the midfielder signed his first professional deal at 18.
Winks is an elegant player, making the fifth-most passes per 90 minutes of any Premier League midfielder (68.8), a rank he matches for forwards passes as well (24.49 per 90 minutes). And all that without being on the superpowered possession teams of Chelsea and Manchester City.
This calm presence in possession is something that Tottenham’s midfield is lacking at the moment. Dembele used to be a player who wouldn’t be pushed off the ball in a hurricane, but age seems to have caught up with him. He only passes forwards 9.54 times per 90 minutes on average and is dispossessed 1.41 times per 90.
Eric Dier, meanwhile, has never been the most assured presence on the ball, often a trigger for opponents to begin pressing when he receives it, such is his weakness with it at his feet. Dier is a strong defensive presenc, but he needs to be matched with someone who can help the team keep the ball and get it forwards. Winks can be this.
Tottenham’s match against Manchester City on Monday night showed how little control their midfield is currently exerting.
The end-to-end affair made for great entertainment for neutrals, but not so much for Pochettino. And it was not surprising that Winks was brought on after 67 minutes, or that it was Dier who he was replacing.
It’s been a long time coming but the midfielder moving into the starting XI could be the culmination of a project that Pochettino has had since he arrived at White Hart Lane.
“The manager wanted me in and around it [the first team], moulding me with the first team, getting into his way of thinking,” he has said. “A loan got mentioned once but he said ‘no, he’s not going’. I knew the fact that manager didn’t loan me out was a massive sign I was in his plans.”
Pochettino’s belief in Winks, and Winks’ ability on the ball, are two big reasons why 2018/19 could be a breakout season for the Englishman.
*odds subject to change