They love a local lad at White Hart Lane – especially if they’re called Harry.
21-year-old Winks has featured prominently in Mauricio Pochettino’s matchday squad this season, and the central midfielder – a tidy technician with an eye for a defence-splitting pass – is already drawing tentative comparisons to Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.
Harry Winks: the closest Spurs have come yet to a like-for-like replacement for Modric. Seriously.
— James Maw (@JamesMawFFT) February 19, 2017
Everyone knows the hype train – particularly in the case of talented, young Englishmen (of which there are only a select few) – moves pretty quickly these days, but to be fair, Winks does share many of those attributes footballing buffs typically associate with classy continental metronomes. He’s less an all-action goalscoring type like teammate Deli Alli (who models his game on that of Steven Gerrard) than he is a patient, methodical passer, adept at creating space in a chock a block midfield.
Like Michael Carrick, the desperately under-used England midfielder of only 30 caps who has spent the last decade pulling the strings at Old Trafford, Winks is forever in the right place, taking the ball from troubled teammates, and keeping it just long enough for them to find some space of their own and receive it back. Pochettino already has plenty of willing forward runners – and knows he can rely on his latest academy graduate to retain some semblance of order from deep.
Harry Winks taking three men out of the game with a drop of the shoulder. pic.twitter.com/ItGi3F6z9a
— Rich Arrowsmith (@RichArrowsmith) February 19, 2017
Winks has a lot going for him, but there are also understandable reservations which bear mentioning. The youngster sits in that great tradition of Jack-of-all-trades English midfielders who lack the difference-making ability expected of Champions League level players. Like James Milner and Jordan Henderson, Winks can do a little of everything without really mastering any single skill. He’s neither a great ball-winner nor a tempo-setting play-maker; to put it bluntly, he’s essentially a cog in the machine (albeit a potentially important one).
There are a slew of fleet-footed English midfielders, ostensibly schooled in the ways of modern European football, who were once touted as the next big thing, but eventually ended up plying their trade at mid-table teams (if they were lucky enough to stay in the Premier League at all). Josh McEachran, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Rodwell, Tom Cleverley, Tom Carroll (who Winks replaced in the Spurs squad) and, if he’s not careful, Arsenal after-thought Jack Wilshere, have all failed to live up to the sort of expectation that followed their first-team bows.
Jack Rodwell has started 31 Premier League games without finishing on the winning side – a Premier League record.
Sunderland life… pic.twitter.com/t6DNdpZsGv
— UNILAD Football (@UNILADFooty) October 19, 2016
There’s a reason for this: central midfield is one of the most important positions in football, especially for teams which see a lot of possession, and establishing yourself as a regular starter in the middle of the park is no easy feat. Many of the English youngsters who have found their place at big teams have been able to play in more than one role: Dele Alli at Spurs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Arsenal, Jesse Lingard at United.
Without either any apparent versatility, or the game-changing ability of the teammates with whom he’s competing for a spot in the midfield (Dembele being the most obvious example), it’s difficult to see a long-term future at White Hart Lane for Winks.
Difficult, but not impossible: solid academy-bred players are few and far between at England’s top clubs, and Pochettino is nothing if not patient when it comes to youth development. In short, don’t write Winks off yet – but let’s at least try and slow down the hype train.
Will Winks enjoy trophy success with the Lilywhites, for the first time since the club won the 2008 League Cup Final?