Harry Winks: The Creative Spark England Are Missing?
On July 9th, whilst England marched on to their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years after a clinical victory over Sweden and amongst hysterical scenes at home, a very different mood was felt at the Enfield Training Centre, the training home of Tottenham Hotspur.
It’s the first day back of pre-season, and with Spurs having 11 players represented at the World Cup, half their squad is absent, and the setting is quiet as the players warm up for their first session after the break. It’s a sombre time to be a player at a top European club, as with many of their colleagues shining on the game’s biggest stage, players can be forgiven for still brewing over the “what ifs” of missing out on World Cup selection or qualification.
One such player with these thoughts was the 22-year-old academy graduate Harry Winks, less than a year on from his international debut. It’s been a tough year for Harry.
Impressing for Spurs in a string of solid performances in the Premier league in the 16-17 season and slowly building up a starting place, Winks suffered an ankle injury after tumbling into the dugout away at Burnley, which has haunted his playing time and consistency ever since. In May 2018, after travelling to Qatar to see specialists, Winks had surgery undertaken on his ankle, effectively ending his season and World Cup selection hopes.
“Op went well [and] ready to push on for pre-season,” wrote an upbeat Winks on Twitter in the aftermath, and from his performances so far, he has every right to be so. In spite of the long periods of injury to date in his career, Winks has already shown that he has serious potential.
At the start of the 17-18 season, he played in 16 Premier League games, impressing manager Mauricio Pochettino to the point of being rewarded with a start in Spurs biggest game of the season, in the Champions League against reigning champions Real Madrid. Winks proved to be a revelation, marking “Galactico” play-maker Luka Modric (Golden ball winner in Russia this summer) out of the game and receiving a standing ovation when substituted off for Mousa Dembele late on as Spurs went on to win 3-1, arguably their greatest ever win in the competition.
Winks’ performance was of such a high order that it led Pochettino to describe him as “the perfect midfielder,” and was rewarded with a huge contract extension until 2023. His niggling ankle injury prevented him from featuring in many more games last season, but performances like this cannot be ignored and the belief held in him from Pochettino is unwavering.
England’s Creative Problem
Despite the enigmatic and somewhat surprising performances of the England squad in Russia this summer, leading to a first semi-final in 28 years and a Golden Boot award for Harry Kane, one issue was desperately clear: England lack creativity in midfield.
Top international sides are often defined by their ability to build play and make chances from midfield, and England cannot rely solely on the brilliance of Kane and the attacking line to compete for titles in the future. Whilst Jordan Henderson performed well in a deep-lying role with several dogmatic and passionate performances in Russia, his ability to create chances and dictate play is questionable to say the least.
Eric Dier may yet prove to be an excellent defensive option, but does not possess the style of play which can dominate games. Jack Wilshere has been seen for many years as the solution to England’s midfield, but a career hounded by multiple injuries and questionable commitment has led his ability and fitness to rapidly decline.
Winks impressed in his debut for England against Lithuania, helping seal qualification to the World Cup as England won 1-0. Like Pochettino, Gareth Southgate also holds Winks in high regard, telling Sky Sports: “I was really pleased [with Winks], I thought he showed great maturity, he didn’t look fazed by wearing an England shirt.
“His quality on the ball was good, he was the one that found forward passes and he looked to play forward. I thought he could be very proud of his debut.”
Winks played twice under Southgate in the under-21s and is a seemingly perfect fit into his new-look senior side. Trippier, Kane, Alli, Dier and Rose are all Spurs players that have become England regulars, and Winks is a cut from the same cloth. As Southgate looks to strengthen a team build on collective effort and togetherness, Winks is a genuine candidate to bring quality to a midfield which is the most apparent chink in the armour of Southgate’s team.
There are four years until Qatar 2022, a long time in football, but Winks has time on his side. Winks has not been selected for the latest England squad, but the faith shown to him by Pochettino and Southgate alike is a luxury not many young English players are afforded, and Winks will benefit from the trust held in him from his coaches.
This season can make or break Harry Winks. If his ankle injury persists, he risks missing valuable game time and development in his young career. However, if he can overcome his injury troubles, and get a good run in the Spurs starting team, he has the potential to grow into one of the best creative midfielders of his generation, both in the Premier League and for England.