If you’re going to single out players not named Hugo Lloris for praise after Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 Champions League draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu yesterday, you’d probably start with Harry Winks. The 21 year old midfielder had the difficult task of holding down midfield against Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Luka Modric, one of the best midfields in world football. And he played extremely well under very difficult circumstances, playing with an calmness that belied his age and playing experience.
But it was the opportunity to play against former Tottenham star Modric that most excited Winks, who was a 12-year old schoolboy when Modric was signed from Dinamo Zagreb in 2008, and greatly looked up to him as a role model.
“When I was coming through the academy at a young age [Modric] was someone I always used to watch at White Hart Lane. I still admire him to this day - he's a fantastic, world-class player. To play against him was special.
"Him and Kroos, they are two world-class players, players I look up to, so when you go on the pitch with them it's easy to get a little bit daunted by it.
"But I try to take all that away from it, treat it like any normal game and just go for them as I would any other player. Being on the pitch with them you realise their quality and just how good they are."
Winksy’s responsibility against Madrid yesterday was a tall order, and if we’re completely honest Madrid still overran Tottenham’s midfield for much of the match. That’s no slight on Winksy, though — he had a 91% pass completion for the match, higher than Modric, three interceptions, and wasn’t afraid to go in for a tackle, either. It was his composure in midfield that really stood out: Winksy was not overawed by the occasion and even when he was seemingly trying to hold down the midfield on his own he did not look out of place in the side.
It was really interesting watching Modric and Winks on the same pitch. Nobody would say that Winksy was the equal to Luka, but there were definitely some similarities to their games that stood out when you watched them. With time and a lot of hard work, there’s reason to think that Winks could develop into a player a lot like his boyhood idol.