Spurs midfield prospect Harry Winks recently turned 20, but in his career so far, he has played just 17 minutes of first-team action. Surely, you would think, the time has come for a loan?
During the January transfer window, Winks was linked with a temporary move, and a number of Championship clubs were reportedly interested.
But Mauricio Pochettino, per Sky Sports, was against letting squad players leave at a crucial part of the season, although Alex Pritchard was eventually allowed to join West Brom as he continues his recovery from ankle ligament surgery.
So Winks remains at Hotspur Way, a long way down the pecking order behind fellow academy graduates such as Tom Carroll and Nabil Bentaleb. He may see action in the Europa League if Pochettino shuffles his pack during a busy month, or if injuries strike, but more likely he will not. The emergency loan window, which allows for youth players to move to Football League clubs for periods of up to 93 days, remains open until March 24 and may yet allow him to get some first-team action elsewhere.
The Winks situation got me wondering whether the club has pulled back in terms of the numbers of young players being sent out on loan. I decided to take a look.
For the past eight seasons, I have gathered data for the total number of loans, those which are long-term in nature (spanning at least half a season, or two transfer windows), and those which are developmental in nature (so filtering out experienced players who for various reasons aren’t required but are not sold).*
A few points
- As you can see, the total number of loans so far this season is relatively low, and is highly unlikely to hit the levels of previous seasons even if several academy players do move on emergency loans in the next six weeks.
- This season, only one of the loans in non-developmental — Federico Fazio. In previous seasons there have nearly always been three or four of these “unwanted” players. This is a good illustration of Pochettino having his squad just as he likes it, and also the club’s effectiveness in being able to move out unwanted players on permanent deals rather than having them hanging around.
- The number of long-term loans is particularly low this season, even below the 2008/09 season. I wanted to look at this as, one imagines, an extended spell with a lower league team makes for a very different learning experience to just dipping in and out for the odd month.
The number of outgoing loans is certainly low this season. Is this a deliberate shift in how the club is seeking to develop young talent, or just a one-off situation? I will keep an eye on it, and I would welcome any comments or insight.
With social media, and the increasing number of youth games being streamed or broadcast, youth football is becoming a more prominent part of the daily Spurs discussion. Just in the past week, there were articles on both ESPN FC and Sky Sports analysing the talent coming through at Hotspur Way. Inevitably, this creates expectations, and causes frustrations if we don’t see these youngsters unleashed as soon as we would like. (I’m just as guilty as anyone, as this article I did early in the season on Josh Onomah proves…)
In Pochettino we have a head coach who is prepared to put faith in youngsters. This was evidenced in January when he opted against bringing in defensive cover in favour of promoting Cameron Carter-Vickers, or bidding for a defensive midfielder such as Victor Wanyama, and instead placing faith in Bentaleb despite his difficult season. From this perspective, you can understand that the number of youngsters out on loan may decline — they are required in the first-team squad.
Winks may well “need a loan”. Surely, there comes a point where you need to put what you learn in training into action, like a trainee pilot swapping the simulator for a real plane? Or, it may have been judged that he is better off developing at the club, for now. There could be reasons we don’t know about — a growth spurt, concerns over durability, a clear plan to phase in more minutes in the second half of the season.
Pochettino, and academy guru John McDermott, have earned patience and trust — even if these commodities are rare in the insta-everything world we inhabit. I look forward to seeing more of Winks in the future.
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*This data comes from Wikipedia, for all bar the 15/16 and 11/12 seasons, when the entries are incomplete and I instead used Transfermarkt. I used Wikipedia because it makes further research such as loan length easier, rather than because it is necessarily the most authoritative source. Furthermore, classifying what is and isn’t developmental isn’t an exact science — at some point, Bongani Khumalo, say, went from being developmental to flotsam. You can insert your own Bongani jokes here. But certainly, these numbers offer useful guidance.