Who can blame a man for looking after his own back? While there may be a feeling that Louis van Gaal is trying to hit back at Manchester United in his apparent attempt to dissuade Jurrien Timber from making the move to Old Trafford, it’s hard to imagine it’s anything personal. Business is business.
It’s been an anxiously slow start to the summer for United who have a significant rebuild project to complete after the dismal campaign last term. There’s no need for panic stations just yet, and the club certainly aren’t, but they’re going to have to get a shimmy on sooner or later.
MEN Sport understands that new boss Erik ten Hag is targeting at least five players this summer to stamp his own identity on a depleted squad that is short on confidence. Midfield is the biggest priority, with Frenkie de Jong and Christian Eriksen both being targeted, while a forward is also on the agenda.
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While it may not be the biggest concern, a new defender would be ideal as well, with both center-back and right-back in need of reinforcement. Timber is the priority target and would kill both birds with a single stone.
The talented 20-year-old shone in Ten Hag’s title-winning Ajax side last season, impressing with his distribution, reading of the game and versatility. At one stage, a move to United looked inevitable.
However, there appears to have been a roadblock put in place by Van Gaal this week. The former United boss is now at the helm for the Dutch national side – in which Timber is a regular. Reports have claimed that Van Gaal has warned the defender that he should move to United and not play regularly then he would not be guaranteed a spot in the squad for the upcoming World Cup in November.
Such a threat would scare the life out of any footballer. A World Cup only comes around once every four years and there is no guarantee that Timber would get another chance to play in one. Losing out on that opportunity would be heart-breaking and Van Gaal is more than right to not pick a player who isn’t performing.
While Van Gaal’s warning may be well-meaning and Timber’s concern more than justified, it could very well be misplaced. That’s because it’s difficult to see a world in which, should he move to Old Trafford, Timber wouldn’t get regular game time.
United were a shambles defensively last season. A team that concedes more than relegated Burnley clearly needs some improvement in its rear-guard.
Harry Maguire was the chief culprit as he endured a terrible campaign after his form nosedived following his heroics for England at Euro 2020. But he was not alone. Raphael Varane struggled at times during his debut year in England and spent a large amount of it on the sidelines. Victor Lindelof had bright moments but he’s got a lower ceiling than the aforementioned pair.
With Eric Bailly and Phil Jones now periphery figures that are free to leave, United’s options in the heart of defense are lacking in quantity and quality, at least on current form. None of the three have a guaranteed spot in the side under a new manager when all things are going well, but when you factor in injuries, suspensions and the inevitable rotation due to the Europa League, Timber would be bound to feature heavily at the heart of defense.
That’s before you even take into consideration that Ten Hag would be much more likely to start one of his own signings and a player he knows he can trust to carry out his instructions on his pitch. Timber’s age and inexperience in the Premier League may count against him a tad and he could be eased into things to adapt, but it’s unlikely Ten Hag would sign him to never use him.
Then there is the fact he is also more than capable of playing at right-back, another position United need to strengthen after Aaron Wan-Bissaka was transfer listed and as Diogo Dalot has yet to prove he’s good enough to be a first-choice. If Wan-Bissaka departed and Dalot did not improve, Timber would have a great opportunity to make the right-back slot his own and play even more regularly.
No one can blame Van Gaal for his warning or Timber for his legitimate worry, but there is little reason why he won’t play enough to ensure his spot in Qatar. United now can only hope they can convince him of that.