Winks: 'The training intensity and coaching here is second to none'
14 February 2017|Tottenham Hotspur
Back at the table with Mauricio Pochettino for the third time inside 12 months to sign a new contract, young midfielder Harry Winks says he feels at home at the top level of football, but remains in a “gradual process” of improvement.
After a full season of hard graft in first team training last term, the academy starlet has featured regularly this campaign, often coming off the bench to give us renewed energy and zest in the centre of the pitch as we continue to battle on three fronts.
In fact, the 21-year-old has made more substitute appearances for us in the Premier League than any other player in 2016-17 – a total of 15 – in addition to starts in home wins against West Ham and Burnley, including that memorable goal against the Hammers – painting a picture of just how much progress he’s been making.
First rewarded with a new deal in March last year before again putting pen to paper in September, shortly after making his Premier League debut against Liverpool, Harry has been delighted with how things have transpired for him.
“I’m delighted, over the moon to sign another contract with the club, commit my future even more and I’m looking forward to the years ahead,” beamed the Hemel Hempstead-born youngster, who last month returned to his old school, The Cavendish School, to give a speech to students and promote a new full-time sports programme delivered by the club’s Global Coaching team.
“I’ve had a lot of game time this year and it’s been everything I’ve wished for since the beginning of the season, but ultimately football can change and I need to keep that level of work rate, keep that work ethic up and keep myself going in the future.
“Obviously I’m doing well on the pitch to be rewarded with this contract but ultimately it doesn’t stop there. As soon as you’re awarded a new contract you’ve got to keep working hard to justify the reason why you got that, so that’s my intention now.”
Asked how much his extensive spell training with the first team squad in 2015-16 prepared him for the current campaign, Harry replied: “It helped massively. It was tough, playing here and there with the Under-21s and getting game time here and there with the first team but the intensity of training here and the level of quality with all the players and the coaching – it’s second to none, it really is.
“It improves you on the pitch, off the pitch and I’m grateful for that season because it toughens you up mentally as well as physically and technically.”
Having watched the likes of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele excel in central midfield for the majority of 2016-17 so far, Harry believes he can slot in anywhere in that area at Mauricio Pochettino’s wish.
“Where I’ve come through the academy, I’ve had to adapt to different roles,” he explained. “The academy managers throughout the years have always told me to be able to be versatile in midfield as opposed to just playing one role so, for me, if I’m on the pitch then I can adapt to what I need to do.
“If the manager says to sit then I’ll sit, if I need to have a bit more of a free role and be a bit more fluid then I’ll do that but for me, just being on the pitch is a bonus itself and when I’m on there it’s obviously important to show quality, confidence and to stay solid within the team.”
Could you have imagined you’d have made this much progress prior to the current campaign?
“Yes, I’d like to have believed that I could get this many games and play as much as I have done. At the same time, at the beginning of the season it was a bit of a blur as to what I’d be doing in terms of game time so all I really focused on at that stage was working hard every day, taking it day-by-day and seeing what happens and luckily so far it’s been going well.”
How much has Mauricio helped you?
“Massively. He’s a top manager, I think all the boys will say it as well. Not just the manager, the staff too – the coaching staff are brilliant here. The gaffer has been brilliant for me and obviously as young academy players, all we want is opportunities and the fact that he’s actually given me that and he’s gradually brought me into the team, I’m very, very grateful for that.”
You spoke after your debut about living your dreams by playing for Spurs. Do you feel like you’ve moved on from that a bit now?
“I’m still a Spurs fan, it’s always my boyhood club. Every time I play for the team I give it my all, it’s in my nature really. I’ve been playing for Tottenham since I was six but I feel like I’m gradually getting into more of an important role in terms of coming off the bench or getting games from the start but I wouldn’t say I’m the finished article or anything like that yet. I’ve still got a lot of work (to do) to establish myself in the team and to keep the consistency because obviously it can change if I don’t keep working hard and I don’t keep playing well.”
After 17 top flight appearances so far, do you believe you’ve now acclimatised to the Premier League?
“Yes, I do. It’s a tough league, it’s sharp, it’s intense. I remember my first proper run-out in the Premier League and it was difficult to adjust to with the tempo of it but I feel like after one or two games you sort of settle, you understand the intensity and the speed of it and I feel like I’m acclimatising to it well.”
Do you think you’ve settled into the senior environment at the club?
“Yes. Obviously the boys are brilliant here as well, they take to you well, they help out on and off the pitch but it’s still a gradual process. You’ve got to have two or three seasons before you can really say you’ve established yourself. I’m having a good season so far but I need to make sure I keep that level of work ethic up and I keep playing well.”
How much of a boost will this contract give you as we approach a key stage of the campaign?
“It’s a big boost. Ultimately it’s signed now, though, and I’ve got to focus on the pitch, focus on helping the team to get results and hopefully we can push on in these next few weeks, get maximum points and do really well.”