Tottenham Hotspur, under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, have become a breeding ground for young English talent.
The likes of Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli have all found a home at Spurs in recent years and then progressed to become regulars in the national side.
It is something that Pochettino places at the heart of what he is trying to achieve and the model makes sense from both a footballing and business standpoint.
On the pitch, it offers Tottenham players the opportunity to grow and hone their games together whilst gaining regular access to first-team football.
The North Londoners are now reaping the rewards with a strong nucleus to their team that has a great understanding having played together for a number of years at both club and international level.
Financially, bringing these players in at a young age or developing through the youth system means that if necessary they can be sold on at a great profit further down the line; for example Walker, who signed for Tottenham from Sheffield United in 2009, along with Kyle Naughton, for a combined fee of £9 million and joined Manchester City for around £50 million this summer.
The latest player to emerge from the academy ranks is Harry Winks; a midfielder who has been around the senior setup for a couple of years and now looks ready to stake a claim for a regular starting berth.
The Tottenham youngster is becoming increasingly involved under Pochettino and starred in the recent 1-1 Champions League draw away at Spanish giants and holders Real Madrid, turning in an industrious performance that also served to highlight his composure on the ball.
In fact, ‘composure’ is perhaps the word that best describes the lifelong Spurs fan, who has that rare gift of always appearing to have time and space in possession.
Add to that a widely praised England debut last month, in which Winks comfortably outshone his more-experienced midfield partner Jordan Henderson, and it seems only a matter of time before he is a key cog in Pochettino’s machine.
The Lilywhites have an embarrassment of riches in the centre of the park but there could be an opening for the 21-year-old to exploit in the coming months.
Moussa Dembele has been a mainstay of the starting XI for five seasons since he moved from Fulham in 2012, but there are now increasing questions over his fitness and at 30 he is moving towards the latter stages of his career.
The Belgium international has featured in around half of his side’s matches this term having suffered an ankle injury in the League Cup win over Barnsley in September, with Winks benefiting from a run in the side in his absence.
That is not to say that the two players are identical or even particularly similar in how they operate from the centre of the park.
Dembele is a strong runner with the ball; a box-to-box midfielder who is able to turn quickly on the spot and play his way out of dangerous situations.
Meanwhile, Winks is more of a deep-lying playmaker; intelligent and aware in possession, who specialises in keeping the play ticking over and feeding cute passes to more advanced team-mates.
However, strip it back to basics and the pair do a similar job – namely getting the ball quickly to players who can create chances, whether that be Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli through the middle, or spreading the play to Tottenham’s roaming full-backs.
With that in mind, neither is going to trouble the top of their team’s goal or assist charts; last season Dembele was directly involved in three Premier League goals, Winks just two.
Their role is less obvious but vitally important and has become increasingly highly valued in modern football thanks largely to the success of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side and the Spain national team.
Dembele has been a fantastic servant to Tottenham over the past five years and there is a reason why he has been a regular under three different regimes.
When he eventually departs there will inevitably be a hole in the team, but in Winks Pochettino may already have found the ideal man to fill it.
Written by Gareth McKnight
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