Erik ten Hag's 'no-brainer' transfer move could solve Manchester United's defensive problems
It’s been a very good week for Erik ten Hag, and no doubt he’ll be making the most of it before he’s faced with the mountain of work lying in wait for him at Manchester United.
The 52-year-old signed off from duty in Amsterdam in style as his Ajax side secured yet another Eredivisie title – his third during his four-and-a-half years in charge, with a fourth only eluding him due to the pandemic. His tenure with the Dutch giants will come to an end this weekend with their final fixture at Vitesse Arnhem before he hops on a plane bound for Manchester.
Everyone at United, whether it’s fans, players or staff, will no doubt be counting down the days until they can put what has been a wretched season behind them. Just how many of the current squad will still be at the club next season remains to be seen, and Ten Hag will no doubt have his own ideas about who should stay and should go. But what is certain is that the Dutchman has a major rebuild on his hands.
Key to that will be repairing a defence that has been well and truly shot to pieces. Only five teams have conceded more goals than United in the Premier League this season, and three of those occupy the relegation zone.
It’s certainly not an easy fix either, with issues across the back-four. But Ten Hag may have already identified the perfect solution.
Jurrien Timber has already been linked with a move to United, with the speculation going into overdrive following Ten Hag’s appointment as manager. The 20-year-old has been in fine form for Ajax this season, leading to his boss handing him an enormous show of belief.
Amidst the title celebrations on Wednesday, Timber was announced as the club’s ‘Talent of the Year’ and was presented with the prestigious Marco van Basten award by Ten Hag. The recipient of the prize was selected by the incoming United boss himself, with Ten Hag describing the decision to hand it to Timber as a 'no-brainer' (per Voetball International).
That’s no mean feat for the defender, given the wealth of young talent on offer at the Johan Cruyff Arena. And, as various Ajax names past and present are inevitably linked with a move to United this summer, few would appear to tick as many boxes for Ten Hag as Timber.
The young Netherlands international is equally adept at right-back as he is at centre-back, which would immediately cover two problem positions for United. And Ten Hag even backs him to be able to cover another couple of areas that need addressing in the summer.
"Jurrien could even play at left-back or in central midfield,” Ten Hag said earlier this season. "He will not immediately be the leader of the Ajax first team, but he dares to speak out immediately and he has not been shy in the dressing room. Those are important qualities to get far."
It’s clear to see just how highly rated Timber is by Ten Hag, and Wednesday’s award might just be a gentle reminder to the player of that. It’s certainly not lost on the defender just how much of an influence Ten Hag has been on him.
“Under him I became the footballer, the man I am today,” Timber said earlier this season. “The coach talked to me a lot. He’s been very critical, in a good, constructive way. I won’t forget that anytime soon.”
That ringing endorsement will no doubt be fresh in his mind should the call come from United this summer. Given Ten Hag’s feelings on the player, you wouldn’t put it past him to make that call.