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The midfielder, who joined Spurs as a five-year-old, talks about the influence of the scary academy manager, John McDermott, and the brutal Gacon test the players do in pre-season

Harry Winks struggles to find the words but the sense of what he is trying to get across is etched into his features. There is boyish wonder, excitement and pride but above all, there is happiness and it feels like the antidote to the cynicism in the modern game.

The music that they play at White Hart Lane before you walk out is just the 20-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder says, before he tails off. I absolutely love it. I think its from Star Wars. Me and my dad, when we used to stand in the crowd as fans we used to get hairs sticking up on our necks listening to it. Being in the tunnel now, about to walk out to it, its still the same feeling. I cant really describe it. Its amazing. It really is.

This is what it is like to live the dream. Winks has been at Tottenham since the age of five, which is one of the many eye-catching details to his beautifully scripted story. His father, Gary, is a Tottenham fanatic and Winks remembers going to his first game with him at White Hart Lane when he was six or seven.

It was against Middlesbrough and Id managed to get tickets from one of the guys who worked at the club, Winks says. I had the directors seats, the leather seats, bang on the halfway line. I remember the crowd, all those people singing and its just like Wow. It has stuck with me. When I play now and I hear the crowd, it still gives me that buzz I had when I was at that age. I dont think that will ever go, to be honest.

Winkss association with Tottenham had started after he attended a summer football camp as a five-year-old which was run by Ross Kemp (no, not that one). Kemp also worked for the clubs development centre in St Albans and he invited Winks to train there, but it was not long before he was moved to the Tottenham academy at White Hart Lane.

It was twice a week at the academy, just for an hour or so, in a ball court above White Hart Lane, Winks says. I remember getting the Kappa bag with all the gear inside when I was six. I progressed from there.

The boy from Hemel Hempstead has been the discovery of Spurs season, exceeding even his own expectations. I wanted to hit 20 games not starts, just games, whether it was for five minutes or however long, Winks says. On Saturday, most likely in the starting XI in the FA Cup tie against Wycombe Wanderers, he will hit 23.

Winks has impressed with the range and efficiency of his passing and, in particular, his composure in pressure situations. He has demonstrated an ability to get his team moving or off the hook with a smart touch or pass and there have been several occasions when his manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has brought him on as a substitute to try to preserve a lead or dig out a foothold.

Harry Winks was speaking at the launch of a new football and education programme being delivered by the club at his old school, Cavendish, in Hemel Hempstead. For more information, please visit Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Winkss breakthrough came in the Premier League game against West Ham United on 19 November. Thrust into the starting lineup, he scored the equaliser for 1-1 and more than justified Pochettinos faith in him as Tottenham won 3-2. He ran over to celebrate with the manager following his goal, which illustrated the bond between the two and Pochettino would reveal that Winks said thank you to him in his office after the game.

The manager called me in, Winks says. I was just about to get into the shower and I had my towel on. He was there with all the coaches and they were having a glass of wine. He said: Well done, and he gave me a cuddle. He understood how difficult the season before had been for me, travelling and not playing, and he said that. I just said: Thank you very much for the opportunity, for progressing me to the first team. That goal was like a thank you. Its why I ran to him after it.

For Winks, it was a time to take stock of his journey through the clubs youth teams and, also, the all or nothing point, as he calls it, of last summer. The 2015-16 season had been tough for him, even if it had started well with an invitation to travel with the first team to the pre-season Audi Cup in Munich.

Pochettino took only him and Josh Onomah from the outfield ranks of the academy and he would tell the other hopefuls that they could go on loan. The Argentinian prefers to keep his most talented young players with him in order to drum his methods into them, and it is not always a positive sign when they are loaned. Pochettino always refused to let Winks go out.

Winks spent the season around the first-team squad but the cycle, in his words, of travelling, being left out; travelling, being left out was frustrating. He made only two Europa League substitute appearances, totalling 17 minutes. In 2014-15 Pochettinos first season at the club Winks had made his debut as an 87th minute substitute in the Europa League but nothing more.

Ill be honest, last summer was very stressful, Winks says. Because youre 20 years old and youve only played three times and never started, and you can see other boys who are playing regularly in the Premier League or the Championship. I got told I wasnt allowed to go on loan, which was a good thing but, at the same time, I just wanted to play matches. So do I annoy the manager and try to push for a loan or was I just to keep working hard and trust him? Winks did the latter although, in truth, there was no decision to make. Pochettino has long had a plan for him and all Winks has ever wanted to do is play for Tottenham. He reported for pre-season training in top condition and he made it his mission to leave nothing on the training pitch.

Pochettinos pre-season regime is unforgiving and Winks sheds light on something called the Gacon test, which is named after Professor Georges Gacon, who was, among other things, the fitness coach at Paris St-Germain, for whom Pochettino once played. It is an intermittent beep-style test, with a period of running followed by a rest and the distance increasing incrementally. Its an absolute killer, Winks says. Yet he was one of the last men standing. I really pushed myself to the limit, he continues. And the one thing the manager loves is fitness and that mental side.

Harry Winks, in action here against West Ham, says he knew this season was potentially make or break for him at Tottenham. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/via Getty Images

Pochettino took Winks on the clubs tour to Australia, where he excelled in the friendlies against Juventus and Atltico Madrid and, when he named him on the bench at Everton on the opening weekend of the season, Winks saw the first signal that he would be a part of his plans.

Winks talks of John McDermott, the clubs academy manager, as being one of the most key parts of me being where I am today, while he worked productively under the coach, Chris Ramsey, from the age of 12.

I remember I used to be really, really scared of John when I was 12, 13, Winks says. Hes strict, hes old-school and he toughens you up. He likes a tackle, he likes you to be tough but he also likes the technical side. Hes very similar to the manager.

It is Pochettino that has taken Winks to the next level, having made an impression on him from their first meeting. I signed my first professional contract in the summer of 2014, which was when the manager came to the club, Winks says. As I was signing, just next to his office, he walked in, shook my hand and said I dont know if he was being truthful or not Ive seen your videos and I told John McDermott to sign you up straight away. I was gobsmacked.

Winks offers insight into Pochettinos training sessions, which begin each morning with possession drills known as boxes. Eight players work on the sides of a small square, trying to keep the ball from two more in the middle. It is like a rondo. Whenever one of those in the centre gets a touch, they swap with the player that gave the errant pass.

Weve got this new rule if you get nutmegged three times, you have to sing on an away trip, Winks says. Its happened to Eric Dier and Josh Onomah but theyre fighting their corner and refusing to sing. There is a bit of a debate over whether their leg was up or was it down for a proper nutmeg?

Winks says that Pochettino oversees a lot of small-sided games, sometimes as tight as two-versus-two, in which the intensity is always high, while a more recent innovation is matches between the squads English and foreign players. Its been getting feisty, Winks says, with a smile.

Pochettino likes to get involved. I remember he injured himself taking someone else out, Winks says. He went for a high ball, someone else has gone for it and he whacked his back and hes hobbled into the physio. It was either Cam Carter-Vickers or Ben Davies. They were a bit nervous. Ive just injured the gaffer here. I think it might have been Cam.

Winks is engaging company, polite and self-effacing to a fault, and he tells the story of when he was six and his mother, Anita, persuaded him to write to his hero, Steven Gerrard, at the Liverpool training ground. Unfortunately, he did not get a reply but he would see him in March 2014, when he was on the bench for Tottenhams game at Liverpool under Tim Sherwood while he has also met him at a sponsors event.

Ive shaken his hand, Winks says. And hes given me a look as if to say: Keep going, that sort of thing. Winks intends to do so.

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