Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing the Tottenham Hotspur first team players after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Up next: midfielder Harry Winks.
Appearances: 33 (1,297 minutes)
Hugs from Mauricio Pochettino: At least one that we know of, likely a lot more
What Went Right?
Harry Winks wasn’t the player we thought would be the next one to break into the Tottenham Hotspur first team. If you had asked us, we would’ve probably said Josh Onomah, or maybe even Marcus Edwards. Winksy was a small, unassuming, skinny kid, fresh out of Spurs’ academy, and though he earned a first team number in 2015-16 and made it into at least one Spurs TV video, there wasn’t much that suggested he might have a major role to play with Spurs. He seemed more Tom Carroll than Scott Parker.
That changed in Tottenham’s preseason tour to Australia, when Winks was thrown into Tottenham’s starting XI in matches against Juventus and Athletico Madrid. Winksy, showing a bulked-up frame that looks like he seriously hit the weight room in the offseason, did more than just survive — he actually played well, showing a composure on the ball and a range of passing that, if raw, showed promise and didn’t make us want to gouge our eyes out. He had some nice passes, a couple of gorgeous turns, and a few body-checks on Juventus defenders that made me sit back and say WOAH.
It was enough for most of us in the writer’s room to be, at minimum, intrigued. But also wary — most of us were also excited about Ryan Mason after Spurs’ preseason trip to USA in 2014.
Winksy was limited to mop-up duty in the early part of the season, making a just a few cameo appearanes at the ends of matches, and usually for a knackered Mousa Dembele. Then came the home match against West Ham, his full Tottenham debut. And Winksy did this.
Harry went on to start in two of Spurs’ six Champions League matches, and saw his role increase to where he was a regular substitute in central midfield, usually paired with Victor Wanyama. He made the most of his match opportunities, offering a slightly different look to Mousa Dembele: a little more progressive with his passing, a little less reliant on out-muscling defenders. It was looking like he was starting to make a real case for himself as a Moose replacement.
What Went Wrong?
The match against Burnley was the end of the road. Winksy injured his ankle in a bizarre sideline incident, ended up having surgery, and missed the rest of the season. It was an unfortuante way to end what was really a very promising debut campaign. Pochettino adjusted to Winks’ absence by relying more on Eric Dier in midfield, but there were times in the run-in when the club could’ve really used Winks as an impact sub. (Pochettino even resorted to using Filip Lesniak against Leicester.)
But even aside from the injury, there were times when Winksy showed his youth and inexperience. He still had a tendency to be bullied off the ball due to his size and would make the occasional bonehead pass, but he also only just turned 21. This is well within the realm of acceptability for an inexperienced central midfielder his age.
Nobody benefitted more from the departures of Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll than Harry Winks, and despite a tough end to the season, these are performances that he can build upon for next year. Winksy should be fully fit in time for Spurs’ preseason, and there’s every indication that he is going to be a major part of Tottenham’s midfield rotation going forward.
Spurs are reportedly in the hunt for another central midfielder, which might suggest that it could cut into Winks’ playing time next year, but that might have more to do with Moose getting older and less with Winksy’s play. There will be plenty of games to go around with Spurs back in the Champions League and wanting to actually win things next season. There’s also the possibilty of a slightly expanded role in a midfield three, should Pochettino decide to switch things up a bit.
Let’s also not forget that it would probably be unfair to hand the keys to the midfield kingdom to Winksy at this point after (half) a decent season and while coming off of a nasty injury. Winks will get game time. He’ll probably start in the cups, maybe a couple of Champions League games against weaker opponents, and the occasional Premier League match, and he’ll also be one of the first to come off the bench as Moose wears down. If he continues to improve, and there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t, then Winksy could play a crucial role in a 2017-18 Tottenham Hotspur title chase. Not bad for a scrawny academy kid from Hemel Hempstead.