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Josh Onomah and Harry Winks Can Still Develop at Tottenham Despite New Signings

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2016

Josh Onomah in action against Juventus during the summer's International Champions Cup tournament. The 19-year-old has since made two competitive appearances early on in the campaign proper.
Josh Onomah in action against Juventus during the summer's International Champions Cup tournament. The 19-year-old has since made two competitive appearances early on in the campaign proper.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

You will sometimes hear or read footballers talk about how pleased they are a new signing has joined their team. The recruit will be in their position, but they will mention the benefits of competition for places and how it can only strengthen the squad.

Often there will be truth to such statements, especially when the arrival is a proven entity with whom improving things is close to a certainty. But they may also be tempered by hidden concern—publicly anyway—of the effect it will have over their playing time.

Tottenham Hotspur academy pair-turned-first-team-hopefuls Josh Onomah and Harry Winks might have been experiencing such jumbled feelings in recent weeks. Their club has made some notable purchases in midfield areas they have been on the edge of competing for.

Tottenham Hotspur @SpursOfficial

#DeadlineDay. Done. 📝 #NkoudouSigns #WelcomeLopez #SissokoSigns 📝 ⚽️ #COYS ⚽️ https://t.co/Cq8VABAtc1

Central midfielder Victor Wanyama joined from Southampton earlier on in the summer. On transfer deadline day (see above), winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and the versatile Moussa Sissoko arrived from Newcastle United and Olympique Marseille, respectively.

Over the last couple of years, Onomah, 19, and Winks, 20, have been positioned as the next in line to successfully progress from Tottenham's academy, following in players' footsteps such as Harry Kane and Andros Townsend. Anyone would be forgiven for wondering if their employers' summer expenditure has blocked that pathway.

Coming out of pre-season, manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke positively about the general maturing of the young players on the fringes of his squad, how they had shown "a lot of quality." In addition to the aforementioned two, this praise was also in reference to Luke Amos, Marcus Edwards, Shayon Harrison, Luke McGee, Will Miller, Cameron-Carter Vickers, Kyle Walker-Peters and Anton Walkes.

"They grow up, and they mature in the one or two months that they are involved in the first team—a lot of names I can give you," Pochettino said ahead of Spurs' Premier League opener against Everton. "I think that we are in a process and a philosophy and we carry on in the same that we start two years ago."

Both Winks and Onomah were two of the first the Argentinian himself began to integrate from Spurs' youth team into his footballing doctrine.

Harry Winks replaces Paulinho during Tottenham's win over Partizan Belgrade in November 2014.
Harry Winks replaces Paulinho during Tottenham's win over Partizan Belgrade in November 2014.Ian Walton/Getty Images

Winks, then 18, was introduced late on in a 1-0 Europa League victory over Partizan Belgrade in November 2014. Just under two months later, the 17-year-old Onomah made his own debut as a substitute in the team's 4-2 FA Cup third-round replay win over Burnley.

"It felt natural, and I loved every minute of it," Winks told Tottenham's official website. "We work so hard, and to get the opportunity is massive for us."

"Hopefully it’s the first of many and I can push on now," a similarly delighted Onomah reflected after his own bow.

Onomah has done just that since, moving ahead of Winks in the back-up pecking order. Though not at a Dele Alli-level of precociousness (few are), he has already shown a good aptitude for the top flight.

After returning to the youth-team fold after that appearance against Burnley, Onomah was called up more regularly throughout 2015-16. His eventual tally of 19 appearances was more than healthy for a teenager still learning his trade.

Made up of rotation-duty starting cup matches such as against teams as varied as Leicester City and Borussia Dortmund, as well as coming on as a substitute to help see out or help recover Premier League games, Onomah played solidly enough.

Understandably there was a certain tentativeness up playing among big names and sturdier physical challenges. Starts for Spurs' academy sides and England youth teams offered a better insight into a deceptively languid but actually smooth, increasingly sharp attacking style (the 2014 European Under-17 Championship winner is currently on duty with his country's under-20 team, featuring in the first of two friendlies with Brazil on Thursday, as seen below).

But that was where the logic to Pochettino's thinking came in.

Onomah needed experience to develop into the kind of talent he envisioned him becoming. While regular training in the boss' preferred way of playing would help, real development would only occur via testing himself at higher levels.

This challenging but carefully considered involvement appears to have paid off.

Onomah was one of Tottenham's brighter performers out in Australia in the International Champions Cup, outshining other attacking midfielders like Heung-Min Son and the now-sold Nacer Chadli.

Against Atletico Madrid—the second of Spurs' two losses—he hit the crossbar and instigated a move leading to an Erik Lamela chance. Although pre-season is not the most accurate judge of rhythm and tempo-related impressions, it was notable how more at ease he looked in the side's fluid bursts forward.

Not involved in the 6-1 thrashing of Inter Milan, Onomah returned to the bench for the 1-1 draw with Everton. A week later he came on for the first of two subsequent cameos that have further raised hopes he could be ready for a more substantial role this season.

Onomah fires against the Atletico Madrid crossbar during Spurs' pre-season loss.
Onomah fires against the Atletico Madrid crossbar during Spurs' pre-season loss.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

In his few minutes against Crystal Palace, he led Joel Ward on a dizzying run before beating the full-back and passing to Alli. After losing possession to Jason Puncheon soon after the second-nature recovery-of-possession Pochettino strives to make intrinsic to his players was seen as he promptly won it back.

On for a little longer against Liverpool last time out at White Hart Lane, he was just as lively. He won a corner-kick, led his team out of danger and almost found himself through on goal in stoppage time, a narrow offside just costing him the opportunity.

Nkoudou and Sissoko joining would appear to have made Onomah building on this seem all the harder now. With Alli, Christian Eriksen, Lamela and Son all also competing for attacking midfield roles possibly set to be reduced by the pairing of Kane and Vincent Janssen up-front, standing out will be even tougher.

Yet Pochettino has shown faith in him for a reason. He believes in his ability to become an imposing presence who can effectively shape his team's play.

Speaking after the Liverpool game, it seemed giving the youngster more opportunities was on his mind.

"We have some players like Josh Onomah that are very young and today show good quality, only need experience in Premier League and the opportunity to show his quality."

Onomah's skill and athleticism could also mark him out as a central-midfielder proper down the line. For now that appears to be Winks' domain so far as a Tottenham academy man getting a chance there.

He will have been encouraged at making his Premier League debut against Liverpool, even if the match passed him by for his few minutes on the pitch.

Also selected on the bench against Everton, that fixture was the first sign Pochettino was considering using Winks ahead of more experienced players.

Like Onomah, Winks has looked promising against good opposition.
Like Onomah, Winks has looked promising against good opposition.SAEED KHAN/Getty Images

Tom Carroll returned instead of him against Crystal Palace. But that he had been deemed worthy enough in the games either side of the derby ahead of Nabil Bentaleb (sent out on loan to Schalke for the second game) and Ryan Mason (since sold to Hull City) said a lot.

At the same time Wanyama and Sissoko's arrivals have added to the competition there too. Even without them and Carroll, displacing one of Alli, Mousa Dembele or Eric Dier was going to take some doing.

That Winks is one of Spurs' more specialised midfielders may work in his favour.

Along with Carroll, he is pass-minded. Though not limited to just bringing others into play (like Dier is not just a protector in front of the defence), it is Winks' good eye and mostly tidy technique that makes him stand out.

The potential seen at youth level—like Onomah, for club and country—has been in further evidence at last year's pre-season Audi Cup, as well as in the summer just gone. He only appeared twice competitively between the Partizan Belgrade and Liverpool games, but Pochettino's keeping him around to work with has said something.

A year older than Onomah but further behind in his first-team integration, the man in charge evidently believes Winks has needed more time. But if he can do as he is asked, adhering to Pochettino's philosophy, he could find himself involved more regularly too.

Tottenham have spent this summer and would not have signed those players without intent to use them in what could be a demanding year ahead. They must produce, though, or risk two eager academy boys-turned-men showing them how it is done.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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