Harry Winks doesn’t understand why he’s not playing more, and is now speaking publicly about it. In an interview with Dan Kilpatrick of the Evening Standard, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder gave a revealing interview where he expressed his frustration at how he has slid down the roster at Spurs.
Two years ago under Mauricio Pochettino, Winks was getting call-ups to play for England. Now, he only manages match time in the third tier Europa Conference League, and is often not selected for Premier League benches. These frustrations have seemingly boiled over after yesterday’s 1-0 loss at Vitesse in the Europa Conference League, but it’s been simmering for a while now.
“No. No, I can’t [understand it]. But listen, the circumstances are that I’m in this situation. Of course [my confidence is low]. When players are not playing well and you only have yourself to blame, it’s difficult. I want to be at my best, firing and playing really well. It comes with games. But ultimately it comes with me performing on the pitch when I get the opportunity.
“If I’m not doing that, then I only have myself to blame. I’m man enough to admit that I need to improve in certain areas. On the contrary, I need to play games and the only way to [improve] is getting minutes and getting that sharpness back.”
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation for Winks. He claims that he’s not getting enough match time to improve his performances, but also seems to admit that his performances haven’t been good enough to make a case for him to be involved at the top level at the club. It’s hard to know how to square that circle, and he’s hardly the only player in this situation. Players like Dele and Bryan Gil in particular seem to be stuck permanently outside of Nuno Espirito Santo’s good graces for whatever reason, and if the two-tier A-team/B-team structure Nuno put in place this week sticks for any length of time, it’s difficult to know how these players can escape it. Or to put it another way, Nuno seems to have established his first choice XI at the moment and it’s not at all clear whether there’s a bridge between the B-team and the A-team, which can lead to what Kilpatrick on Twitter described as a “vicious cycle of underperformance.”
I do feel for Winks. As I wrote last night, Nuno’s approach to the ECL risks creating a two tiered squad & a vicious cycle of underperformance. Winks needs regular football in a functioning team to get back to his best. But why should Nuno play him when he’s so out of form?— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) October 22, 2021
Winks hinted at that tiered structure, suggesting that leaving Nuno’s preferred players in London to train ahead of Sunday’s match at West Ham has damaged team morale.
“It is tough. We’re meant to be a team. It’s meant to be competition. It’s meant to be competitive. Everybody should be fighting for weekend games and it’s difficult. Motivation should be everybody fighting for the same cause and the same thing.
“But when we go out on that pitch and we’re not playing in the [first] team, we’ve got to put that right, make a point and show the manager we should be playing in the team. And when we lose in the way that we did, we don’t do that. It’s down to us but there’s a lot of factors behind that.”
All that said, and as Kilpatrick hinted above, in many ways this is a problem of Harry WInks’ own making. He may rail at the unfairness of his current situation (and he may have a point), but it’s pretty unequivocal that when given opportunities over the last few years he has not played his way into more minutes. How many times in the past two seasons have we criticized Winks’ play on this website, both in articles and in the comments? How frequently have we said that the things he’s good at — showing for the ball, quick sideways distributions — haven’t outweighed his weaknesses in defense, especially in the tactical systems deployed by Jose Mourinho and Nuno? And I’m being nice.
Winks also had the opportunity to do something about it this past summer. Tottenham were reportedly actively trying to sell him to another club, with clubs like Everton interested. Winks turned down those moves, saying he wanted to fight for his place at his boyhood club. Now, he’s in a situation where he’s behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele, and Oliver Skipp in the pecking order, and at best level with Gio Lo Celso.
Winks ducked a question about whether he’d be open to a move away from Spurs in January, but reading between the lines it seems pretty clear he’s ready to consider his options and wants a meeting with Nuno to clarify his situation and chart his future in time.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead. I’ve got a lot of games to try and fight for the club. There’s still two months to go and it’s about knuckling down, working as hard as I can and having no regrets.
“When the time is right I’ll have a conversation [with the manager] but right now it’s important that the team and manager are focussed on the next game and don’t get any distractions from me.”
I’m somewhat sympathetic to Winks’ frustrations. All professional footballers want to play football and it must be incredibly frustrating after playing in a Champions League final to watch your star fall under successive managers. On the other hand, the hard truth is that he hasn’t played well enough to deserve his place in the first team, and it’s pretty clear at this point the only way to resurrect his career is to do it somewhere else. Rejecting a transfer this past summer was a mistake, and it’s probably in the best interest of all parties if he decides to move on.