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Harry Winks: From Flag-Bearer to Standard-Bearer at Tottenham

Harry Winks: From Flag-Bearer to Standard-Bearer at Tottenham

Monday, 18 February, 2019 - 08:30
Tottenham’s Harry Winks. (Getty Images)
London – David Hytner
It is a lovely story, a real ratings winner, and one that bears retelling at times like these. As a 15-year-old Tottenham academy hopeful, Harry Winks was given the honor of being a flag-bearer before the club’s Champions League quarter-final tie against Real Madrid at White Hart Lane in 2011.

It was an incredible thrill for him, being up close to Cristiano Ronaldo and all of the rest, but not least because first and foremost Winks is a Spurs fan who started going to home games with his father, Gary, when he was six or seven. By then, Winks had joined the club’s academy. He was five when that happened.

On Wednesday at Wembley, on another grand Champions League occasion – the last 16, first-leg tie against Borussia Dortmund – Winks completed his journey from flag-bearer to standard-bearer. And when the dust had settled on a memorable 3-0 win, nobody felt the elation more than him.

“I’ve been in the stands and I’ve watched Spurs play in the Champions League many years ago so to play, get the win and do as well as we did makes it that little bit more special,” Winks said. “It is up there with the greatest results I have had in a Spurs shirt. I am incredibly proud and delighted to be playing for the team.”

The headlines went to Son Heung-min and Jan Vertonghen, scorers of the first and second goals, with the latter imposing himself out of position at left wing-back. But Winks was the quiet force behind the victory – one he described as a “statement” to the rest of Europe.

Mauricio Pochettino has come to rely on Winks, particularly in the big Champions League games, preferring his playmaking skills in front of the backline to a more orthodox defensive presence. The manager prizes Winks’s composure in pressure situations, his ability to set the tempo with his passing and against Dortmund he got the team moving.

The first half was a struggle but, more than anyone, Winks tried to bring the urgency, the fizz on the ball. Once Son had made the breakthrough in the 47th minute Dortmund were strangely passive and Spurs sensed they were there for the taking. Pochettino’s team pressed in a more coherent style and Winks remained central to the gameplan. The 23-year-old saw a lot of the ball and the statistics showed that he finished with a 93 percent pass accuracy.

“The manager told us at half-time what we needed to do tactically to get on top and it worked,” Winks said. “It was just about when we went to press; it was to be more aggressive and more compact. He wanted us – from the defenders to the attackers – to be as compact as possible and to press as a unit. That was the most important message he gave to us.”

One of the things that stood out was Spurs’s patience and maturity. At this stage of the competition last season, they notoriously lost their focus against Juventus, conceding two goals in three minutes and a position of strength to exit. When they got on top this time, they tightened their grip.

“We have been in the Champions League for the last couple of years so we are starting to learn what teams are like,” Winks said. “Any small mistake gets punished. We have to be on it from minute one to full time. We have watched games back from the past where we have lost and we have taken a lot on board.”

The message from within the squad is that nothing will be taken for granted before the second leg on March 5. But they are aware of the magnitude of Wednesday’s result and the possibilities that it has opened up.

“We hope it’s a statement to show that we are up there, we mean business and we want to go as far as we can in the Champions League,” Winks said. “There is no better way of doing that than beating Dortmund 3-0 at home. We have got to win the second leg first before we can even look at how far we can go. But it’s a great result, hopefully we can progress and who knows where we can go?”

The Guardian Sport

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