It now seems highly likely that the next permanent manager of Manchester United will be Erik ten Hag, with the club in advanced negotiations with the Dutchman. The Manchester Evening News understands that he has been the preferred candidate for a few weeks, but it is now clear that he is the man to take the club forward over the likes of Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino’s high release fee of around £15m along with Paris Saint-Germain’s struggles this season put him out of the running for the job and made Ten Hag the outstanding candidate. The work, however, does not stop here for United and they will need to begin putting the structure in place for the Dutch manager to succeed.
Part of this will come down to transfers and United are in need of reinforcements across the board. One such player could be Ajax central defender Jurrien Timber, who Dutch journalist Mike Verweij said is one of the players that Ten Hag will be looking to bring with him to Old Trafford.
READMORE: Ajax expecting Erik ten Hag to join Manchester United
Centre-back, though, is one of United’s most reinforced positions, even if Eric Bailly and Phil Jones leave this summer, so the club spending serious money on such an area is unlikely. But what if Timber, who has played as a right-sided centre-back for the majority of his career, could be the club’s answer to their full-back problem.
In Ten Hag’s Ajax system, the full-backs take up two different roles. One is tasked with playing higher up the field, acting as a more attacking element. In the Dutchman’s current team this is Noussair Mazraoui, who is available for free this summer but looks likely to join Bayern Munich, as per Fabrizio Romano.
In United’s current team this would be Luke Shaw, who has not set the world alight with his goal and assist numbers in the Premier League, but his underlying numbers paint the picture of a player who would thrive in a system that makes him a crucial piece of the attack. Ten Hag can offer him this role.
The other full-back slot is usually occupied by former United defender Daley Blind. The Dutchman has become a key member of Ten Hag’s squad since he returned to Amsterdam from United in 2018.
Blind is usually required to stay back and makes the back-four into a back-three in possession. He then uses his elite passing ability to break the lines of the opposition and progress the ball, like a quarterback playing with the whole field in front of him.
This is a key part of Ten Hag’s tactic as it protects his defense when Ajax loses the ball and also allows for more creative and direct passing from the back. And in this role at United, Timber could thrive.
Now your first question might be ‘why can’t we just play Timber at centre-back’ and my answer is, height and physicality. Timber stands at 5’10” and is not the strongest and although centre-backs have succeeded despite these limitations in the past (Blind a good example), playing him at right-back would minimize these weaknesses while still allowing the team to best use his strengths of him.
According to FBref, Timber ranks among the highest in his position for progressive actions, with 5.39 progressive passes and 6.46 progressive carries per 90 minutes. When you compare this to Blind, he is lacking with 10.88 progressive passes and 6.15 progressive passes.
But to put it lightly, Blind is the best in the world when it comes to progressive passes from full-back, beating out the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Timber ranks well above average for both, so it shouldn’t be an issue for him to play the role to a good standard. Obviously, there will be a transition period, but with the entire team adapting to Ten Hag’s style of play he will not stick out as a problem in the short term.
Overall this is just a theory and if Ten Hag has plans to sign Timber and bring him with him to Old Trafford he will have a plan for him, but as starting right-back he can cover at centre-back while Diogo Dalot is a more than capable deputy. But with a number of positions needing to be addressed, it is not a priority in the transfer market.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.