Harry Winks is confident that new Tottenham signing Rodrigo Bentancur will be a big success in N17 due to two of his standout attributes.
Having to make do with a place on the bench in his first two Spurs games since his transfer deadline day switch from Juventus, the Uruguayan has wowed fans when he has been given pitch time by Antonio Conte.
Making supporters stand up and take notice minutes after his introduction against Brighton & Hove Albion following a fine turn to fool Evan Ferguson, he was then at it again in their following match at home to Southampton as he showed off his incredible footwork before releasing Lucas Moura with a sprayed pass.
Arriving in north London with a winning mentality due to his Serie A success at Juventus, Winks believes that Bentancur’s physical and technical attributes can see him thrive in the Premier League over the coming years.
Winks, speaking exclusively to football.london at a William Hill event, said: “He’s a good player. He’s been at a big club so he has that mentality coming into the team.
“He has only been in the club for a couple of weeks now so he’s still learning how the manager wants us to play etc.
“Technically he’s very good and physically good, I’m sure he’ll be a success at the club.”
Bentancur is now a direct rival to Winks for a starting spot in midfield and it leaves Conte with a big decision to make with Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg his other midfield options.
With all four competing for a place in the head coach’s favoured 3-4-3 system, Winks sees it as healthy competition that can only benefit the team.
“There’s always competition from everyone in midfield. It’s not just me, there’s four of us all competing for a spot,” explained the academy graduate.
“That’s healthy and you’ve always got to fight to keep your spot because otherwise someone else will take it.
“It’s not really seeing it as competition, it’s seeing it more as healthy competition where we are all pushing each other to hopefully benefit the team.”
As well as Bentancur making the move from Juventus before the January transfer window closed for business, Dejan Kulusevski also joined him at Tottenham after parting with the Bianconeri.
Like Bentancur, the Swedish international has had to make do with a place on the bench so far but he has shown his qualities.
Clearly a talented player who can be a big hit for the Lilywhites, patience is quite clearly needed as he looks to adapt to the pace and intensity of the Premier League.
“He’s young, he’s just come to the club and he’s been at a big club with a big mentality. Another good player,” said Winks.
“Playing in the Premier League is completely different to Serie A, it takes a little bit of time to get used to the intensity and physicality but they’ve both been great in training and done well when they’ve come on.
“I’m sure they both will be a success at the club.”
As is the case concerning all teams across the globe for a variety of different sports, many supporters have already given their opinion on the new signings on social media.
A place where players can be praised and criticised in equal measure, Winks has admitted that he stays away from social media after games as there is often a very fine line between being the hero or the villain.
“I don’t take no notice of that,” he revealed. “When we win a game it’s easy for fans to be happy and praise us, but when we lose it’s also understandable that they have their frustrations as well.
“I tend to stay away from social media after games because it’s not something that really benefits me.
“I know a lot of fans like to take to social media to vent their frustrations so it’s probably best not to look at it as I’ve been in the game long enough now to know how it works.
“One week you can be the hero, next week you can be the villain so it’s just about balancing that and staying away from social media.”
A regular in Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield after progressing from the academy to the first team, the last two years have been extremely hard for the player after falling out of favour under both Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo.
Limited to only 10 Premier League appearances last season during Mourinho’s tenure before he lost his job in April, game time was also hard to come by under his successor after only two outings in the league in the first 10 matches of this term.
Winks’ situation has improved following Conte’s arrival at the club and the player believes he is starting to recapture his form amid his previous frustrations.
“It takes time. To play regularly is all I wanted and to get that match fitness back, to help build confidence back and get back into the team,” he admitted.
“Beforehand it was in and out for two years and it was difficult to build consistency and get games.
“At the moment I’m working as hard as I can in training and in matches to try and get back to my best. Hopefully that can continue.”
Overlooked by both Mourinho and Espirito Santo previously, Conte has clearly seen something in Tottenham’s No.8 and has subsequently claimed he can count on him and waxed lyrical about his man.
A midfielder himself before hanging up his boots and going into management, Winks has already taken plenty from Conte in their first three months together in the capital.
“His intensity, his passion for the game, his winning mentality as well and just some technical aspects on how he wants us to play and what he wants us to do,” said Winks when asked what he’s already taken from his boss.
“I’m continuing to learn under him and there’s always something new in training that he wants us to do and learn from.
“I’ve definitely learnt new aspects of the game that I probably didn’t think about beforehand.
“Just some of the play playing out from the back and how he wants to utilise the midfielders and play through. He’s definitely someone that I’m really enjoying to work with.”
Conte has made an immediate impact on the training pitch at Hotspur Way and his demanding sessions have seen a huge improvement on the pitch with his players’ levels going up considerably.
Worked extremely hard at their Enfield base, the work doesn’t stop there for the Tottenham squad as fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone has been spotted putting the players through their paces with rigorous post-match workouts for those who have not played or either entered the field in the closing stages.
“It’s tough. It’s hard work but it’s fitness based as well as technical and tactical based, which is good because as a team we need that and we need to improve physically to get back to our peak fitness. When you’re at that peak fitness you play better,” confessed the England international.
“It is tough but we all enjoy it and we all love the fact that it is tough because you come off training feeling a lot more fulfilled and a lot more hard worked knowing that you are improving day by day.”
Certainly appearing to be getting back to his best in his recent appearances for Spurs following an increase in his playing time, Winks has showcased a creative side to his game that has benefited those playing ahead of him.
Registering an assist in the thrilling 3-2 win away at Leicester City, the midfielder also had a part to play in goals against Liverpool and Southampton over the festive period.
Given that Conte admitted that Spurs are short of creative players in their squad following the Leicester victory, could Winks step up and help ease the burden?
“It’s always something I try to do in the games. I don’t really consider myself an attack-minded midfielder with the creativity of other midfielders who play in that position,” he revealed.
“If I can try and contribute to the game in other ways and if by that is looking for more creative passes, then I’m always trying to learn to do that and I’ve shown in some games the capability to do that.
“It’s just on a consistent basis to try and keep working and doing that. It’s something I’m always looking to improve my game and that’s just another aspect of it.”
Conte has already admitted that he sees Winks’ best position sitting in front of Tottenham’s backline due to his qualities.
The Spurs star, however, is happy to take on any role the Italian wants him to as he looks to help out the team.
“When I’m playing! Whenever I’m playing is when I’m at my happiest,” stated the 26-year-old when asked where he is at his happiest.
“For me it makes no difference where I play as a pivot or double pivot. For me, as long as I’m playing I’m capable of playing both roles, I’ve done that for however many years I’ve been playing for Tottenham.
“It’s not something I read much into. Whatever shape or whatever way the manager wants to play I’ll adapt to that and do what I can to help the team.”
One player Winks now finds himself competing against for a place in the Tottenham team is Skipp.
Getting appearances here and there during Pochettino and Mourinho’s Spurs tenures, the England Under-21 international was allowed to depart on a season-long loan to Norwich City in 2020/21 in his quest to pick up more first-team experience.
Not only did Skipp do that as he helped the Canaries win the Championship title, he is now a Tottenham regular with both Espirito Santo and Conte taking a real shine to him following his return.
“Skippy was training with us for the last few years before Norwich anyway and he definitely showed his ability and what he can offer, but that experience of just going out and playing has really benefited him and helped him out,” admitted Winks.
“Since he has come in he’s done really well and we have another player who will definitely look to try and improve under the manager.
“He’s a real good guy and a very good player.”
Another player who has really caught Winks’ eye so far this season is summer addition Cristian Romero.
Rated incredibly highly after winning the Serie A defender of the year gong last campaign, managing director of football Fabio Paratici managed to strike a loan deal with Atalanta for his services.
Romero has been a real miss for Spurs over the past three months due to a hamstring injury sustained on international duty with Argentina but he made quite the impact on his return to the team in the FA Cup win over Brighton.
“He’s a very good player, Cuti,” said Winks. “Since he has been in his technical ability is top. He’s aggressive defensively and he’s a really, really good player and someone we’ve missed the past few months when he has been injured.
“Hopefully he can stay fit now and continue to build on that because he’s definitely a very good centre-back and a player we’re happy to have.”
Tipped to become one of the best defenders in the world, Winks is confident that the Argentine can meet those lofty expectations.
“I suppose it’s down to him as he has the ability and has the capabilities of course,” he revealed. “Everyone has that ability when you’re playing at the top level to be that good.
“It’s finding the consistency and staying fit, but he’s a top player and I’m sure if he stays fit and continues to improve under the manager then there’s a good chance.”
Romero has looked right at home in defence alongside Eric Dier, a player who has taken his game to another level under Conte.
Maybe underappreciated by some in the game, he certainly isn’t by his teammates.
“Eric’s a great guy and starting to find his position now of where he’s probably best,” admitted Winks. “I think he’s a player who has improved a lot under the manager and taken on his concepts.
“Again, another player who is perhaps underappreciated but he has been at the club for so long which speaks for itself really. To be at Tottenham for that many years and play at that level is an honour in itself.
“Another player who I think is a top player.”
After seeing a number of long-serving players such as Toby Alderweireld, Serge Aurier, Moussa Sissoko and Erik Lamela move on in the summer as part of Tottenham’s much-needed rebuild, Dele Alli waved goodbye to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on deadline day after joining Everton on a permanent basis after falling out of favour at the club.
A player who has been in the dressing room ever since Winks broke into the first team, it is now a rather strange feeling to see Alli and others no longer there.
“It’s always a bit different when you lose someone like Dele who has been at the club for years,” confessed the Hemel Hempstead-born player.
“That’s football, though, and there have been players who have been at the club for eight, nine years who have had to leave and the first couple of weeks it is a bit strange when you don’t see them at their locker, train with them, have lunch and breakfast with them.
“That’s the nature of the game and people move on. You can’t really dwell on it, you take it in your stride, carry on and get on with your job which is to try and do the best you possibly can for the team.
“Hopefully he will get a run of games there, get his confidence back and start to show his quality. He’s at another club now and it’s down to him to find that form again and I’m sure he will.”
It has been all change at Tottenham over the past nine months but the team do look to be getting back on track after a difficult few years.
From the latest transfer news to those glorious wins in north London and beyond! There might even be a laugh or two too.
Just not working under Mourinho and Espirito Santo, it is now down to Conte to guide Spurs back to the Champions League and get them competing for top honours once again on a regular basis.
So is Conte finally the man who can get the team back to levels Pochettino previously achieved?
“We hope so,” said Winks. “It’s hard because we can’t really put this kind of pressure on ourselves and saying where we want to finish as opposed to where we’re going to finish.
“We’ll take it game by game and as long as we keep trying to improve and learning from the manager’s concepts and believe in the process, I believe that we can climb up the table and get some consistency.
“We’ve showed some great moments and had some really good spells in games, but we’ve also been probably a little bit too sloppy and poor in other areas in other games.
“We’ve got a great manager and good players in the team as well who are all looking to improve as well and achieve something good.
“We’re all pulling in the right direction but we know that it takes time to get the manager’s thoughts and embrace his style.
“We are definitely working hard as we can every day to get to that but there might be moments where we don’t necessarily play as well as we could have but it’s a process and we’re all buying into it and working as hard as we can.”
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