The Harry Winks Dilemma for Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur

LEIPZIG, GERMANY - MARCH 10: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
LEIPZIG, GERMANY - MARCH 10: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) /
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Harry Winks Tottenham Yellow card
Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur FC a yellow card (Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images) /

The Tidy Tottenham Midfielder

Tidy, I cannot count the number of times we have used that word at HotspurHQ to describe a Harry Winks performance, but it is often. When Winks was 20 and 21-years old, tidy was a good thing. However, now that Harry Winks is 24 and has made more than 150 appearances for the club tidy is just not enough.

Whereas his ability to recycle the ball to restart possession and connect the defense to the offense in a number eight role was important to the Mauricio Pochettino approach, that is not the ask of the holding midfielders for Mourinho, and Winks has struggled to adapt. The struggle to adapt is mostly because Winks game has never really progressed from the crisp passing game he had as a youngster.

Winks is very much an excellent passer, completing nearly 90% of his nearly 3900 passes as a professional according to This is particularly true of the short and medium range passes where Winks is excellent. However, his longer passes are less accurate, and he has a career completion percentage under of 79% on passes over 30 yards, a significant decline. Further Winks has completed only 67% – 20 of 30 such passes this season. In other words, Winks moves the ball, just not far.

Now, Winks seems to be thinking about what he is going to do far more than he is doing and ultimately looks for the quick easy pass, versus anything incisive. With only two assists for Spurs in 151 career appearances, setting up others is not Winks’ forte. However, since his ankle injuries started in 2016, he has not been the same defender either.

Winks and Bad Fouls

At first Harry Winks was a harassing, busy bee of a defender, sticking his nose in on every opportunity. While this can be particularly good, a player has to learn when to not dive into a tackle or commit a stupid foul and that is not part of the game Winks has developed and he can be reckless at times.

Across those 151 appearances Winks has 23 yellow cards, which is a yellow in 15% of his appearances. Compare that to Erik Lamelawho is known to be a bit naughty – who has 38 yellows across 293 appearances for a 13% average. This means, yes Harry Winks collects yellow cards at a rate higher than Erik Lamela, which may be shocking for some.

Add in that those 23 yellow cards have come on only 61 fouls and that is astounding. That means Winks picks up yellow cards on 37% of all his fouls, which is greater than one in three. Again, compared to Erik Lamela who has amassed 293 fouls and just 38 yellow cards, for a card on 13% of his fouls. So Erik gets one yellow for about every 8 fouls he commits. This means that the fouls Winks are committing are bad fouls to be carded that often for something he does so infrequently. Those dumb fouls and cards just do not help as a midfielder.

As an attacking player, Lamela picking up a yellow is often not a big deal. Lamela is less likely to be positioned to pick up a second card further forward than Winks protecting the back line. While like Lamela, Winks has never received a red card – for two yellows or otherwise – a midfielder, particularly a defensive midfielder, getting a yellow is much different than it is for an attacker.

The defensive midfielders in the Mourinho system are asked to cover a lot of ground and contribute to both the attack and defense. This means the occasional professional foul and needing to challenge nearly every 50/50 ball. If a player has a yellow card the professional fouls are out the window and sometimes that bit of hesitation on the 50/50 is all it takes for disaster.

In other words, a yellow for Winks will have a much greater impact on how he plays than it would Son or Lamela; just as it would have more impact on Sissoko, Højbjerg , or Toby Alderweireld, thank it would for Harry Kane or Gareth Bale. Different positions, mean different requirements, having a yellow as a midfielder limits the ability to fulfill those requirements.