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Excellent article and very enjoyable insight. I like all that stuff much more than the bland stuff they trot out on TV interviews.Wow harry getting in all the media today,good lad!!Realy interesting article and insight into some of the training and demands of Pochettino.Easy to see why after a few months some were in the naughty chair and moved out,made all the easier by the fact the up and comers want to make it,and can do by training as hard as any big time charies who dont train as hard.I have no doubt its not just as easy as making lets say dembele or eriksen fitter,but that attitude to be more ,do more as well as being fitter than opponents.Really interesting to me how academy players feel about trying and how to breakthrough..Good stuff,I urge you to read it!!
Harry Winks: ‘The buzz I get from playing for Tottenham … I don’t think it will ever go’
The midfielder, who joined Spurs as a five-year-old, talks about the influence of the ‘scary’ academy manager, John McDermott, and the brutal Gacon test the players do in pre-season
Harry Winks struggles to find the words but the sense of what he is trying to get across is etched into his features. There is boyish wonder, excitement and pride but above all, there is happiness and it feels like the antidote to the cynicism in the modern game.
“The music that they play at White Hart Lane before you walk out is just ....” the 20-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder says, before he tails off. “I absolutely love it. I think it’s from Star Wars. Me and my dad, when we used to stand in the crowd as fans – we used to get hairs sticking up on our necks listening to it. Being in the tunnel now, about to walk out to it, it’s still the same feeling. I can’t really describe it. It’s amazing. It really is.”
This is what it is like to live the dream. Winks has been at Tottenham since the age of five, which is one of the many eye-catching details to his beautifully scripted story. His father, Gary, is a Tottenham fanatic and Winks remembers going to his first game with him at White Hart Lane when he was six or seven.
“It was against Middlesbrough and I’d managed to get tickets from one of the guys who worked at the club,” Winks says. “I had the directors’ seats, the leather seats, bang on the half-way line. I remember the crowd, all those people singing and it’s just like ‘Wow.’ It has stuck with me. When I play now and I hear the crowd, it still gives me that buzz I had when I was at that age. I don’t think that will ever go, to be honest.”
Winks’s association with Tottenham had started after he attended a summer football camp as a five-year-old which was run by Ross Kemp (no, not that one). Kemp also worked for the club’s development centre in St Albans and he invited Winks to train there but it was not long before he was moved to the Tottenham academy at White Hart Lane.
“It was twice a week at the academy, just for an hour or so, in a ball court above White Hart Lane,” Winks says.”I remember getting the Kappa bag with all the gear inside when I was six. I progressed from there.”
The boy from Hemel has been the discovery of Tottenham’s season, exceeding even his own expectations. “I wanted to hit 20 games – not starts, just games, whether it was for five minutes or however long,” Winks says. On Saturday, in the FA Cup tie against Wycombe Wanderers, he will hit 23, most likely in the starting XI.
Winks has impressed with the range and efficiency of his passing and, in particular, his composure in pressure situations. He has demonstrated an ability to get his team off the hook or moving with a smart touch or pass and there have been several occasions when the manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has brought him on as a substitute to try to preserve a lead or dig out a foothold.
Winks’s breakthrough came in the Premier League fixture against West Ham United on 19 November. Thrust into the starting line-up, he scored the equaliser for 1-1 and more than justified Pochettino’s faith in him as Tottenham won 3-2. He ran over to celebrate with the manager following his goal, which illustrated the bond between the two and Pochettino would reveal that Winks said thank-you to him in his office after the game.
“The manager called me in,” Winks says.”I was just about to get into the shower and I had my towel on. He was there with all the coaches and they were having a glass of wine. He said: ‘Well done,’ and he gave me a cuddle. He understood how difficult the season before had been for me, travelling and not playing, and he said that. I just said: ‘Thank you very much for the opportunity, for progressing me to the first-team.’ That goal was like a thank-you. It’s why I ran to him after it.”
For Winks, it was a time to take stock of his journey through the club’s youth teams and, also, the “all or nothing” point, as he calls it, of last summer. The 2015-16 season had been tough for him, even if it had started well with an invitation to travel with the first-team to the pre-season Audi Cup in Munich.
Pochettino took only him and Josh Onomah from the outfield ranks of the academy and he would tell the other hopefuls that they could go on loan. The Argentinian prefers to keep his most talented young players with him, in order to drum his methods into them and it is not always a positive sign when they are loaned. Pochettino always refused to let Winks out.
Winks spent the season around the first-team squad but the cycle, in his words, of “travelling, being left out; travelling, being left out” was frustrating. He made only two Europa League substitute appearances, totalling 17 minutes. In 2014-15 – Pochettino’s first season at the club – Winks had made his debut as an 87th minute substitute in the Europa League but nothing more.
“I’ll be honest, last summer was very stressful,” Winks says. “Because you’re 20 years old and you’ve only played three times and never started, and you can see other boys who are playing regularly in the Premier League or the Championship. I got told I wasn’t allowed to go on loan, which was a good thing but, at the same time, I just wanted to play matches. So do I annoy the manager and try to push for a loan or was I just to keep working hard and trust him?”
Winks did the latter although, in truth, there was no decision to make. Pochettino has long had a plan for him and all Winks has ever wanted to do is play for Tottenham. He reported for pre-season training in top condition and he made it his mission to leave nothing on the training pitch.
Pochettino’s pre-season regime is unforgiving and Winks sheds light on something called the Gacon test, which is named after Professor Georges Gacon, who was, among other things, the fitness coach at Paris St-Germain, for whom Pochettino once played. It is an intermittent beep-style test, with a period of running followed by a rest and the running distance increasing incrementally.
“It’s an absolute killer,” Winks says. Yet he was one of the last men standing. “I really pushed myself to the limit,” he continues. “And the one thing the manager loves is fitness and that mental side.”
Pochettino took Winks on the club’s tour to Australia, where he excelled in the friendlies against Juventus and Atletico Madrid and, when he named him on the bench at Everton on the opening weekend of the season, Winks saw the “first signal” that he would be a part of his plans.
Winks talks of John McDermott, the club’s academy manager, as being “one of the most key parts of me being where I am today,” while he worked productively under the coach, Chris Ramsey, from the age of 12.
“I remember I used to be really, really scared of John when I was 12, 13,” Winks says.” He’s strict, he’s old-school and he toughens you up. He likes a tackle, he likes you to be tough but he also likes the technical side. He’s very similar to the manager.”
It is Pochettino that has taken Winks to the next level, having made an impression on him from their first meeting. “I signed my first professional contract in the summer of 2014, which was when the manager came to the club,” Winks says. “As I was signing, just next to his office, he walked in, shook my hand and said – I don’t know if he was being truthful or not – ‘I’ve seen your videos and I told John McDermott to sign you up straight away.’ I was gobsmacked.”
Winks offers insight into Pochettino’s training sessions, which begin each morning with possession drills known as “boxes”. Eight players work on the sides of a small square, trying to keep the ball from two more in the middle. It is like a rondo. Whenever one of those in the centre gets a touch, they swap places with the player that has given the errant pass.
“We’ve got this new rule – if you get nutmegged three times, you have to sing on an away trip,” Winks says. “It’s happened to Eric Dier and Josh Onomah but they’re fighting their corner and refusing to sing. There is a bit of a debate over whether their leg was up or was it down for a proper nutmeg?”
Winks says that Pochettino oversees a lot of small-sided games, sometimes as tight as two-versus-two, in which the intensity is always high, while a more recent innovation is matches between the squad’s English and foreign players. “It’s been getting feisty,” Winks says, with a smile.
Pochettino likes to get involved. “I remember he injured himself taking someone else out,” Winks says. “He went for a high ball, someone else has gone for it and he whacked his back and he’s hobbled into the physio. It was either Cam Carter-Vickers or Ben Davies. They were a bit nervous. ‘I’ve just injured the gaffer here.’ I think it might have been Cam.”
Winks is engaging company, polite and self-effacing to a fault, and he tells the story of when he was six and his mother, Anita, persuaded him to write to his hero, Steven Gerrard, at the Liverpool training ground. Unfortunately, he did not get a reply but he would see him in March 2014, when he was on the bench for Tottenham’s game at Liverpool under Tim Sherwood while he has also met him at a sponsors’ event.
“I’ve shaken his hand,” Winks says. “And he’s given me a look as if to say: ‘Keep going.’ That sort of thing.” Winks intends to do so.
The training stuff is very insightful and this is going to take this thread off on a tangent for a bit,but Poch is obviously set in his ways about the standard and effort of training players have to put.This obviously gives younger players an advantage,not beacuse of age but mindset.Must have been a helluva a shock to some when Poch rolled in,big names,been around the block and a youngish manager comes in and demands this stuff.Easy with this knowledge now to see why amongst the first players culled by Poch were adebayor,kaboul,lennon.I can just see them and this gacon test,"fuck this,i know my stuff I dont need to do this to be good",and why it took time for Poch to improve dembele before including him fully.And thrice again why hungry young mason,rose,kane shot into the team when others were moaning about their quality,they obviously put the hard yards in and the example was set,work hardest and play the most.Thats probably an over simplification but I guess the principle is there.I met Kane and most of the team 4 years ago before the NLD,I have photos on my phone,kane was a lanky (I want to say feeble) under muscled kid,he looked like a kid.Ok with age maybe it would too?but he has bulked up and just from appearance you can see how much stronger he is 3 years down the line.With all respect to the miles harry has run and tons he has bench pressed,Poch has done that to him,by asking it of him.Kane,rose,walker,dembele,eriksen,lamela especially have all benefitted from being fitter stronger and I reckon because Poch has improved them and they know it they love him even more.Thats something I got from Chivers and perryman when they have spoken about Bill Nic,they didnt have to like him,they feared respected and ultimatly after all the pain he put them through loved him.Because he made them better.Excellent article and very enjoyable insight. I like all that stuff much more than the bland stuff they trot out on TV interviews.
There seems to be a ranking system going on. Next year I fully expect Harry W to push on and earn another contract with the honour of signing next to Poch wearing his suit.
When he does where his suit jacket its tracksuit bottoms still
I rate winks so highly, there was all the talk of bentaleb but winks is better!
Good to see his slow rise to first team is being noticed outside the club.Nice write up On harry,excuse my tardiness in not copying,sofa far too comfortable!!
A brilliant talent and footie brain and I just love it when he comes on as you know he is going to be heading in the direction of the opposition goal. He seems content to be used as an impact player, coming on in the second half. I've said it before, Harry has a awesome future at WHL for years to come. Can see him getting more starts next season and it's great to see that DL doesn't have to spend money on the HW position in midfield.