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There’s still a role for Harry Winks at Tottenham

As long as we allow for it

Wycombe Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Harry Winks hasn’t been very high on Jose Mourinho’s plans for Tottenham Hotspur. It’s easy to understand why. When given the chance to be on the pitch, Winksy misses runs, passes in circles instead of triangles, and seems to lack the confidence or instinct to start the ignition. He’s turned into a relative meme on the internet. Poor and uninspired midfielders in other leagues and national teams are now being dubbed the “_____ Harry Winks”. A bland performer who is more comfortable allowing the players around him sparkle while focusing on not making errors. Something you would see from the likes of an academy player on their debut. The football equivalent of plain oatmeal.

Adorable, baby-faced, oatmeal.

Yet, for me, something there still stirs. This isn’t the same Harry Winks I’ve seen flashes of in years prior. We’ve seen his confidence falter completely after committing just one single error. What happened to the Harry Winks who took it to Luka Modric and Isco in the Champions League against Real Madrid? What happened to the kid that bossed it against PSV? Or the match winner when Spurs topped Fulham 2-1?

The hard-nosed midfielder who seemed to be enrolled in the Erik Lamela school of tackling is a distant memory. A (then) 23 year old running fits around the pitch with reckless abandon, mistakes being excused by heart. Harry loved this club. So where has it gone? He looks like a footballer building their resume for the next career move.

The old adage of competition breeding success may not quite apply here. The signing and subsequent massive success of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg had destroyed whatever hopes Harry had to building on a decent 2019/2020 campaign. PEH is Jose’s marshal on the field, eating every possible minute available. Screaming defensive assignments and interrupting attackers is what he was brought here to do, leading the Premier League in tackles made by a midfielder with 71 this season. Couple that with N’dombele’s ball possession and dribbling, Lo Celso’s ability to play a forward pass, and Sissoko’s occasional burst - I can understand why Harry Winks has already starting looking towards the horizon. In this case specifically, La Liga.

Is it too late? Have we reached the point of no return? At 25 it stands to reason he should be hitting peak shortly, if he hasn’t already. Go ahead and open Twitter and search “Harry Winks”, or head into any Reddit match thread. It’s littered with anti-Winks propaganda. Perhaps much of this is perception to falling short of expectations as a team. With all the change this team has seen, perhaps this is no longer the home he once considered. He was Poch’s boy through and through. Who could forget when he leaped into poppa Poch’s arms after scoring on his debut against West Ham? Tears in me eyes... Today, Harry will find no such fatherly figure in Jose Mourinho.

Harry Winks 2017-Present

Stats 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
Stats 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
App 16 26 31 10
Minutes Played 771 1592 2228 639
Passes 642 1388 1694 501
Pass Completion % 90 92 90 0.86
Passes Forward 156 302 495 150
Passes Backward 107 175 194 47
Touches 761 1594 2000 565
Dispossessed 9 22 15 2
Interceptions 11 21 36 8
Tackles 15 22 40 8
Yellow Cards 0 4 9 4
Fouls 8 16 24 6
Premier League Data

2019/2020 campaign was an interesting one for Winks. Coming off the back of a Champions League final in which he started, and played reasonably well in given the circumstances. It was his most complete season strangely, offering a macro view of what he is capable of. While usage increased, his activity per minute is also ticking higher. Less errors and more production. 72% of hiss passes were forward passes with 495. For comparison, Wilfred Ndidi, who led in tackles last season, had 65% forward pass rate with only 446, while also losing possession twice as much. Winksy also managed to create more passes than Ruben Neves or N’Golo Kante per match.

Looking at some other defensive midfielders give you an idea of how Harry has stacked in his last full season. He had a higher pass percentage than the field while also creating more passes, largely forward. Surprisingly, the most comparable player here is Matteo Guendouzi, which makes sense when you consider Arsenal’s feelings towards their 21 year old midfielder, who is currently on loan at Hertha Berlin.

What stands out the most is that nothing really stands out. Harry doesn’t particularly dominate in any one area. And the point must be made he doesn’t necessarily lack in any one area either. He’s a strange hybrid which makes it difficult to compare to other midfielders. His role seems undefined by practicality. Every single player on our roster can do what Winks can do, but better. What he does have is utilitarian. He is unrivaled depth on a team whose schedule gets more and more robust as we continue to improve. He’s not Fernandinho, or Ruben Neves, or Nemanja Matic - nor should he be. He still has a role here to play at Tottenham. The question becomes will Jose Mourinho allow it and/or will Harry Winks wait to find out?