The Spurs star still cleans boots
The ball thunders across the waxed surface and hits the pins with a ker-plunk so pitch-perfect, it could have been a sound effect from a zany American sitcom. All 10 pins are sent flying and a big white X appears on the screen suspended from the ceiling. The half-dozen onlookers enthusiastically woop and cheer, while a sheepish grin appears on Harry Winks’ cherubic face. If FourFourTwo’s learnt one thing in our 24 years, it’s that football players are usually very good at anything they put their hand to. So it comes as no surprise to see this one waltz into a central London bowling alley, select a ball at random and nonchalantly serve up a strike. “Do you bowl often?” FFT asks the Tottenham tyro, who turned 22 just days before. “Not really,” he says, picking up another ball and strolling back to his mark. This time, the pressure is on. A hush descends upon the alley as a growing audience watches on intently. The only noises are the air conditioning’s steady, rhythmic whirring and an arcade machine that’s older than the Spurs midfielder. The ball thunders across the waxed surface. This time, though, the ker-plunk isn’t quite so textbook. It’s more of a plink as one solitary pin is sent toppling over. Harry Winks’ ten-pin bowling is not, it seems, on the same upward trajectory as his football career. Mind you, few things could match his past year and a half. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he says of an 18-month period that has transformed him from a Spurs reserve to an England international who has twice run the show against Real Madrid. At the start of last season Winks had played 20 minutes of first-team football, spread over the latter stages of three Europa League games. Then, within the space of one month, he made his first Premier League appearance (as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool), his first start for Spurs (at home to Gillingham in the League Cup) and his first Champions League appearance (away to CSKA Moscow). Two months after that, he topped off a remarkable autumn with a first senior goal on his first top-flight start – a dramatic White Hart Lane win over the Lilywhites’ London rivals, West Ham. It was all the more enjoyable for Winks given that he’s from a family of diehard Tottenham fans. He attended his first match at the age of five, a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough with Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand on the scoresheet. “My dad managed to blag us some good seats in the executive boxes right on the halfway line,” Winks tells us. “The view was great and Spurs won, so it was the perfect first match. I don’t remember much about the game itself. The thing that stuck in my mind was the atmosphere.” He cites Ledley King as his hero, and the 2010-11 Champions League run as the highlight of his time as a young fan. “I was a flag-bearer for the home game against Real Madrid,” recalls the midfielder. “We lost 1-0, but as a 15-year-old it was surreal to be within touching distance of top players like Cristiano Ronaldo.” Their paths would cross again six years later in a similar setting, but not before a patient battle for regular first-team action. Winks’ first taste of first-team training came as a 16-year-old when Andre Villas-Boas was Spurs manager, but it was Mauricio Pochettino who gave the youngster his permanent promotion to the senior side. The Argentine’s influence on Winks has been sizeable, and he clearly holds his boss in very high regard. “He’s got that aura about him that says he’s the man in charge and you need to respect him,” explains Winks. “But he has a light-hearted side, too, so you know that you can chat with him if you ever need to.” That respect is clearly mutual; Pochettino has even been said to call Winks his ‘Little Iniesta’. He will certainly settle for that, even if Winks’ boyhood heroes are a little on the humbler side...
Harry, who were the first-team players that you looked up to when you were in the Tottenham academy?
Scott Parker was definitely one. I used to clean his boots, and he was really good with me when I was first coming through. He was coming to the end of his playing career and always made time for the young lads. I can remember one time when he stayed late after training and talked me through some clips from a Europa League match he’d just played in. He showed me a few things that he thought I should do in matches. That really helped me. Mauricio Pochettino has had a big influence on your career. Do you remember your first meeting with him? I do. It was actually when I was signing my first professional contract, around the time that he arrived at the club. I was in there with my dad and he popped in to say hello. He said that he had watched a lot of my clips beforehand and that the club were right to sign me. I’m not sure if he was being serious! I’ve got the utmost respect for the gaffer. What he’s done at the club has been phenomenal, and from a personal perspective, he’s given me opportunities, which is all you want as a young player.
What’s the best piece of advice he’s ever given you?
Probably just to stick with it mentally, which he’s told me a few times when he could tell that I was getting frustrated. The first full season with the first team was tough: I was training regularly and travelling
Clockwise from above He put in a star turn as Spurs toppled Real Madrid; in the 2016-17 season Winks left other players in his wake; “Gutter ball!”; instinctively celebrating his first strike with Mauricio Pochettino