How to create the perfect midfielder

21-year-old academy graduate Harry Winks has been central to Spurs’ excellent start to the season, pulling the strings from midfield against Real Madrid in the Champions League – so how do you play like him?

Harry Winks

Harry Winks trains with his Tottenham team mates before a Champions League game

When Mauricio Pochettino arrived at Spurs in 2014, Harry Winks was one of a number of academy players identified with potential to make the first team. And Pochettino had a plan to create the perfect midfielder.

Back in January this year, Winks recounted the time as “very stressful”. He said: “I had a whole season just in the squad – travelling, being left out, travelling, being left out – and it was difficult. The manager knew that, it was part of his plan, and you’ve got to be patient.”

And then in September Pochettino hailed the arrival of ‘the perfect midfielder’. “He has the quality and capacity to play and use the demand of the game, and read it,” he said. “He’s so clever and we are so happy because he provides qualities to the team that we don’t have.”

Winks has improved aspects of his game in training and gradually his first-team minutes were increased until now he has become a first team regular.

Premier League performance

So what did he work on go from the Academy to become a first team regular in the Premier League?
He explained to FourFourTwo Performance what a player in the Premier League needs:

You need to be quick on the ball, have awareness of when players are pressing you and where your team-mates are around you. You also need the ability to pick out a pass, long or short. Ultimately you need to have a quality first touch as well. The Premier League is played at such a fast pace, that you need to have a good touch to set yourself going and be quick in your thinking. Having a good football brain, in terms of vision, understanding of the pitch and positioning is important because the more time you can get on the ball the better, and picking up certain positions which will allow you to bide yourself a bit of time is very important.

What to use in training

In training I like to put myself in positions where it’s tight and I’m pressed all over the place and it’s intense because it mirrors being in a first team match in the Premier League. I like to get myself in and around players and get it as tight as possible so I work on my first touch and getting on the ball quickly.

Players should use small-sided games – 5 v 5, 3v3, 2v2, where you have to be sharp on your feet and with your decision making are perfect for developing a quality first touch. In these games you’re always being pressed and people come at you from different angles so you have to be quick in what you do.

After training sessions I like to work on my passing with other players. That can be long range, short range, and it’s all about hitting the sweet spot all the time so that in a game it’s second nature. I just hit the ball in the way I want to so it reaches my team-mate in the best possible fashion.

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