More goals will make Tottenham boy Winks ‘top, top player’
PUBLISHED: 15:00 22 January 2019
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The Spurs academy graduate is trying to improve his scoring tally, but he is already one of the best young midfielders in the country
It was a special moment for Harry Winks and one he will probably savour for the rest of his career.
No, I’m not referencing his last-minute goal in the 2-1 victory at Fulham on Sunday in the Premier League, but the adulation he received from the travelling faithful after.
The Tottenham Hotspur supporters in attendance at Craven Cottage sang: ‘he’s one of our own, he’s one of our own, Harry Winks, he’s one of our own!’
It was a fitting end to a terrific day for the young midfielder and occurred once the 90 minutes were up so he could really appreciate it.
Another Harry, Kane, is normally on the received end of the song, but this time it was Winks and how he deserved it.
One other occasion when he was serenaded by the song was away to Burnley on April 1 2017, yet this was in difference circumstances.
Winks was on a stretcher leaving the Turf Moor pitch and scans later revealed he had suffered ankle ligament damage.
It ended his superb breakthrough campaign prematurely and was no laughing matter for the academy graduate or Spurs.
This injury stunted his development for a period, but he recovered in time for the start of the 2017/18 campaign and in the Champions League he began to make a mark.
After an excellent display away to APOEL, Winks then shone in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid.
Better was to follow at Wembley Stadium when he produced a display of aggression and precision to help Spurs dominate the Spanish giants and win 3-1 in Group H.
However, this was the high point for the Hemel Hempstead youngster as yet another ankle injury, received against Crystal Palace, was to sideline him.
Although Winks played on throughout the rest of November and December, the issue caught up with him and he struggled for fitness in the final few months of the season.
Eventually the club decided to send him for ankle surgery in May and by this point he had missed out on appearing at the World Cup despite such an encouraging outing on his debut against Lithuania in October 2017.
While it was a case of playing the long game, it has paid off for Winks handsomely.
For England this season he has played a key role in wins over Spain and the United States with the Nations League victory in the former World Champions backyard a particular highlight for the boyhood Tottenham fan.
Assuming he doesn’t pick up an injury, Winks will definitely be in the next Three Lions squad and will most likely start for Gareth Southgate’s team in March.
While for Spurs, the 22-year-old goes from strength to strength and has picked up the baton from Mousa Dembele.
Sunday felt poignant in many ways. It was Tottenham’s first since Dembele departed to China and it started with the Spurs faithful chanting for the Belgian.
However by the end, it was Winks’ name being sung and you can’t help but feel it was a proper changing of the guard.
While Dembele has been absent for long periods during this campaign, his understudy has consistently been fit since September.
There have been times when Winks has been untouchable in the middle of the park and for 45 minutes against Barcelona at Wembley, it felt like he was single-handedly dragging Spurs back into the game.
He seemed to get into his stride after and impressed in two wins at West Ham United, and the crucial Champions League victories at home to PSV and Inter Milan.
Another mature performance occurred at the Camp Nou, despite a poor start, and he was instrumental in recent League Cup successes over Arsenal and Chelsea.
For a long while now it has simply been Winks and Moussa Sissoko in the middle and it has forced the youngster to adapt his game.
We are used to seeing him dictate play, spread passes right and left and be busy, but it is defensively where he has caught the eye of late.
The way he has protected an ever-changing back four - with a big helped hand from Toby Alderweireld - over the last two months has been impressive.
Against Chelsea in the League Cup semi-final first leg only Jorginho and Kante made more tackles, while he also broke play up excellently.
It is another string to his bow, but a big thing missing from his game - and a long-term criticism of Dembele - is a lack of goals.
Before Sunday, Winks had only found the net during the 3-2 league victory over West Ham on November 19 2016.
While he is never going to be a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard-type player, he is in the mould of people like Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Boss Mauricio Pochettino referenced the last two on Sunday and has likened Winks to Iniesta in the past.
The three players are not renowned for goals, but they usually chip in with a handful year in, year out – especially Rakitic.
It is what the best central midfielders do on top of all the other world class facets of their game.
No one expects Winks to net double figures every season, but if he can produce three or four in each campaign it will put his name up there alongside the current greats.
After his dramatic late header at Fulham, Pochettino said: “I feel so proud. We were talking in the last few weeks that it is something he needs to improve, to arrive in the opponent’s box and to try to score more goals.
“That is his second goal in the Premier League, but with his quality, how he plays in possession, he needs to add and improve two different areas in his game: without the ball, be more aggressive. He’s doing that and of course trying to score more goals.
“Always a midfielder if you add goals, like Rakitic and Modric, you start to think that you are a top, top player.”
During the 1-0 loss to Manchester United, Winks signalled his intent with three shots, although none were on target.
He had two more efforts at Fulham and this time both were accurate and the second sparked wonderful scenes.
As Pochettino reminded everyone afterwards, it all started through Winks too as he won the ball inside his own half, showed great bravery to pass into Eric Dier and it got the wheels in motion for that dramatic Spurs winner.
Winks turns 23 next month, but Sunday was only his 24th league start for Tottenham and it shows just how little experience he has.
He needs time and he will make mistakes along the way, but Pochettino will continue to back him to the hilt and the fans need to as well.
If he can stay fit, Spurs should have a special midfielder on their hands and one who could be a regular for at least the next decade.
England should build their team around Winks – a player with bravery, accuracy and guile like few others in the country – and if he can now add goals to his game, sky is the limit for the Tottenham supporter living the dream.