Editor’s note: please welcome our newest contributor, Ryan Ratty.
With three games left in the 2020-21 season, much of Tottenham Hotspur’s decisions over the offseason will stem from where this team will finish in the league after the final game of the year on the road at the King Power Stadium against Leicester.
As it stands right now after the result of Sunday’s loss at Leeds United, Tottenham find themselves six points off of finishing in the all-important top-four. Although their Champions League hopes appear to have gone up in smoke at Elland Road, finishing the season strong could see them in the Europa League again, giving them something to build upon and provide some more incentive for the next head coach to start a new project in north London.
As we approach the coming offseason months, one thing that is for certain is that Tottenham have a bevy of decisions to make regarding the status of what the long-term project will look like. Of course, the appointment of a new head coach could provide a strong verdict regarding the type of team he is expecting. However, regardless of whom the club appoints, once again Spurs find themselves in a crossroads where, in the words of former head coach Mauricio Pochettino, “a painful rebuild” needs to occur.
In this series, we will take a look at a number of Spurs first-teamers who were on the fringe this past season and could be in need of a new scenery. Up first is midfielder Harry Winks.
At 25 years old, Winks has appeared in just 26 out of 54 appearances across all competitions this past season. A few years removed from his defined philosophical role as a box-to-box midfielder in Pochettino’s squad, Winks has seen his form dip and now finds himself in a situation where Tottenham have a difficult decision to make.
Even under Pochettino, Winks’ contributions often fell under the radar. Midfielders who provided more of the goal-scoring or goal-creating threat got most of the attention, but it was a player like Winks who was integral to the way Tottenham played. As once described by Pochettino, Winks had been viewed as a “mini Iniesta.”
In recent seasons, perhaps due to some remnants of the ankle injury that sidelined him towards the tail-end of the 2017-2018 season, Winks has struggled to keep ahold of a starting spot in the lineup. Despite signing a new contract in July 2019, Winks’ lack of physical ability often led to José Mourinho opting for the presence of Moussa Sissoko in the midfield. This led to Winks being on the periphery of the squad as the season progressed, with most of his appearances coming in the Europa League.
More recently, Winks has featured in all three matches under interim manager Ryan Mason. Despite this, due to the fluidity of Tottenham’s coaching situation and his lack of consistent form, the writing could potentially be on the wall for Winks as we approach the summer.
The Pros in Retaining Winks
Depending on the type of coach Tottenham brings in, there may be a role for Winks for the energy that he brings and his ability to operate on both sides of the pitch. The box-score statistics are never going to be there for Winks. He is not a player who will contribute many goals and assists, but the main attributes with Winks are his passing ability. He may not take on players as much as other midfield options, but he also does not force passes forward if the space is not there. Winks was an integral Pochettino asset in large part due to his passing ability in a possession-based approach. As evidenced under Mourinho, Winks was stylistically not the best fit.
Prior to the January transfer window, it was reported that Winks was considering pushing for a summer transfer in order revitalize his career and perhaps cement his place on the England international team for this summer’s EUROs. Tottenham have already made it clear that the next head coach will be one who is attacking-minded and plays exciting football, which could potentially be a slight dig at Mourinho’s overly defensive style that focused entirely on results. Because of this, Winks may just be given that one more chance he desperately needs to make the most of his first-team opportunities.
In retaining Winks, Spurs have a player within their squad who is through-and-through Tottenham. At his top level, Winks can be a Swiss-army knife to Spurs while also providing a bridge for youth players to come through the ranks and earn their place within the first team. On top of this, due to Tottenham having to stay within quota for the homegrown player rule as well as their ‘one-player-out, one-player-in’ transfer approach, parting ways with Winks would put the club in a situation where they would have to be pretty one-dimensional in finding his replacement.
When assessing the midfield options at the club, there are a variety of questions that could persist into the 2021-22 season. Will Dele Alli be at the club? Can Giovani Lo Celso stay healthy? What will be Tanguy Ndombele’s fitness throughout the season? For all of these questions, Winks still provides value as a squad player who can assist in keeping the club fit should the club qualify for European football next season.
The Cons in Retaining Winks
Most recently shown in the League Cup Final, Spurs fans’ confidence in Winks seems to have subsided. Much like other players within the squad throughout this past season, Winks has not grasped the opportunities given to him.
In Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat to Man City, Winks failed to make his presence felt. Against a team who presses so well and forces you to play a particular, frantic way, Tottenham could have used a calm and collective Winks who made himself available and provided a much-needed link to get the ball up the pitch to more-creative attacking options. Instead, Winks’ placement was questionable and it was one of the contributing reasons why Tottenham’s possession ultimately consisted of a game of hot potato between the defensive back four.
For a squad who has been in need of refreshing, perhaps this Tottenham challenge does not enthuse Winks anymore. From his rise in the academy to his performance in Tottenham’s 3-1 win at Wembley Stadium against Real Madrid in 2017, the rise of Winks really came quite seamlessly. This past season, as evidenced by Mourinho’s team selections and substitutions, Winks truly was on the outside looking in. Towards the end of Mourinho’s tenure, there were rumblings that Winks had leaked info towards the media regarding the state of the first team and the culture in the locker room.
With Winks, there is certainly a feeling that perhaps we have already seen the best player he can be. Despite still on the younger side, the past year and a half have really provided Winks with the most significant rough patch of his professional career.
The ethos in the Pochettino era was all about ‘bravery’. When looking at Winks, on the ball and off the ball, he looks like a player who is playing more timid. On the ball, he is much more passive in comparison to other midfield options such as Ndombele or Lo Celso. Both sides may be better suited to parting ways because of this. Even in a depressed transfer market, Winks could still warrant a decent fee, as his skillset and age could make him an attractive option for a possession-based team such as a Brighton.
Combining the fact that Winks is under contract until the end of the 2024 season, his dip in form in the past few seasons, as well as the lack of funding clubs will have this summer due to COVID, Tottenham selling Winks would be similar to selling for 50 cents on the dollar. There is most certainly a player in Winks, but the next management that is brought into the club will have to provide the necessary opportunities and instill the correct motivation to bring out that ability.
There has been interest in Winks in the past. Most recently, it was reported that Valencia had offered to take Winks in on a loan deal. Whether that interest could formalize into a concrete bid is up for debate, but there could be some buzz on Winks’ availability over the summer if rumors continue to swirl over his desire to get back into the England squad.
Unless a club comes in with a respectful bid, my opinion is that we will see Winks return to the squad for the 2021/22 season under whomever the new manager will be. And for what it is worth, under a manager with philosophies such as Graham Potter’s or Ralf Ragnick’s, it’s possible we could see a revitalization of the Winks that burst onto the scene out of the academy and into the first team.
What is your opinion? Leave your thoughts into the comments section.