Profiling Ajax’s Jurriën Timber: What will he bring to Manchester United?

Anthony Onifade
By Anthony Onifade
15 Min Read
Jurrien-Timber-Manchester-United

The famous and well-renowned Ajax academy has been home to some of the world’s greatest footballing talents throughout the years and still stands as an example of a club possessing a classy and productive working model in player development.

The Dutch giants are not only known for developing their academy products and providing them with the opportunity in the first team but they are also renowned for creating a successful business model when allowing those talents to depart and also bringing in new players from the academy.

A player well versed and moulded in the Ajax strategy, currently taken the Dutch Eredivisie by storm is 20-year-old £27m-rated centre back, Jurrien Timber who is reportedly attracting a lot of interest from Manchester United with which his former manager Erik ten Hag now resides. 

The wonderkid rightfully earned Ten Hag’s trust and confidence with his stunning performances and maturity as well as his composure, vision and defensive understanding that fits perfectly with Ajax’s strategy.

His impressive displays granted him a regular berth in Ajax’s starting XI which he has grabbed the opportunity with open arms, becoming one of the finest and most trustworthy cogs in Ten Hag’s well-oiled machine.

With the way Timber has been developing at club and international level, there’s no reason why he can’t make the steady transition to Premier League-level football.

Below I will attempt to evaluate Timber in-depth using The Eye Test and Underlying Stats to come to a conclusion about the potential effectiveness of this signing and if I believe the Dutch wonderkid could become a success in the Premier League.

THE EYE TEST

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*Note: This is based on my personal evaluation of the player. I will be drawing on extensive hindsight knowledge, in-game footage as well as YouTube highlight reels to evaluate Timber in this section*

Ajax as expected were the best performing team in Eredivisie with just 19 goals conceded all campaign, displaying high awareness, composure and consistency. The team’s well-measured actions and anticipation skills result in a high success rate in almost every aspect. 

Ten Hag’s men were proficient in winning their challenges clearly, despite actually having the highest challenge intensity (duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opponent possession) in the league.

Timber has contributed immeasurably to Ajax’s defensive success this season, where he has been rewarded with an impressive SofaScore rating of 7.39 from his performances in the Eredivisie.

Despite the lack of experience, the youngster possesses impressive composure in defence which puts him ahead pf his peers despite his lack of physicality and height. His technique and confidence on the ball allow him to dive into challenges and escape pressure through dribbling which helps the team in retaining possession.

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What makes him successful defensively, though, is his positional sense. Timber’s ability to read the game helps him in anticipating the oppositions’ movement and move into spaces so he can pressurise his opponents and block their attacking efforts.

Timber’s defensive work is often forthright and aggressive in his dueling. His positioning during final third attacks often puts him in good stead to press onto forwards immediately. When he has free reign to attack opposition ball-holders, he’s capable of timing his challenges from behind and finding the right space to reach through to nick the ball well.

As you watch him closely, you’ll find that this element of his defensive dueling is his calling card when battling against opposition attackers.

However, it’s all a different matter when Timber is tasked with marking someone.

When pressing from behind against a direct opponent, Timber is at fault for not establishing the sort of technique that can back up his constant aggression. He pushes into his opponent square-on, and will continue to jab towards the ball but without much care or effectiveness, so sharp turns and layoffs past him can easily catch him flat-footed.

It’s area of his game he will need to work on to become much more efficient and well-rounded on a consistent level like his compatriots de Ligt or Virgil van Dijk.

Going forward, Ajax prefer to build up from the back, starting from circulating the ball laterally between Timber and Martínez. The team usually move into a more advanced position with the centre-backs right behind the central line and the full-backs often going past it to overload the opposition half and provide width. The team’s main strategy is to use high pass frequency and a lot of movement to bypass the opposition pressing structures and advance the ball to the final third.

Ten Hag’s men average over 600 passes per game and possess the highest pass completion rate in the whole division, underlying the players’ strong positional sense and connection.

Timber’s reliability and partnership with Martínez are key in possession. Due to his confidence on the ball and work under pressure, he is used for retaining possession and building up from the back by combining with his CB partner and the fullbacks too. 

One of the reasons for Ajax’s success in building up from the back is that both of their centre-backs are ball-playing defenders. Timber is actually one of the highest in the division in terms of pass frequency with around 82 passes per game on average which support the team’s efforts to deliver the ball to the final third.

Timber is incredibly patient and will use every second he’s given to manipulate the opposition in order to create alleyways elsewhere. He’ll slowly adjust his position with the ball so that he can create space for teammates to rotate into untracked and unseen. This all facilitates the freeing up of Ajax’s Argentine decisive ball-sprayer, Lisandro Martínez, who can look to maximise the directness and tempo of play.

Despite how smartly he shortens and slows his passes as part of the team’s overall play, the 20-year-old has only shown glimpses of potential in this respect. He can weight a long ball perfectly well and is very quick to play through the lines when appropriate, but his adjustments when undecided can kill his ability to play vertically.

It’s why he’s best positioned further towards the right as shown in the heatmap below, as the angles remain open for him even when doing this.

It won’t be a surprise if the Ten Hag temporarily employs him in defensive midfield if he joins Manchester United (who desperately need one), trying to use his passing range to orchestrate play, as he has previously said that a central midfield position might be suitable for Timber in the near future.

Indeed, within the Ajax system and footballing approach, their young products are expected to perform numerous roles within their designated positions, and Timber is yet another one of those hugely versatile products within their prestigious roster.

UNDERLYING STATS

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All stats from FBref.com and compared to other centre-backs in the Top 5 Men’s Big Leagues + European Competition, and will also drawn on stats from SofaScore. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are based on per 90 minutes played* 

As stated previously, Timber’s technique and confidence on the ball allow him to dive into challenges and escape pressure through dribbling which helps the team in retaining possession.

His composure mixed with his combative nature results in winning over 70% of his defensive duels this season, which puts him considerably alongside more experienced stalwarts in Ten Hag’s side such as Lisandro Martinez.

What makes him successful defensively, though, is his positional sense. Timber’s ability to read the game helps him in anticipating the oppositions’ movement and move into spaces so he can pressurise his opponents and block their attacking efforts.

The Dutch wonderkid has won 69% of his ground duels so far this campaign, as well as averaging 2.4 tackles per game and 1.7 interceptions highlighting his impressive defensive resilience and ability when halting his opponent’s progress with the ball.

The key qualities that have led to his valuable contribution are his concentration and work ethic. The 20-year-old is constantly aware of his surroundings and it is difficult to catch him out of position and unprepared.

Standing below 6ft and not being particularly stocky, Timber doesn’t appear to be much of a force, but it’s something he uses well to suffocate duels he’s engaged in. His height is a reason why he isn’t first to contest every aerial ball, but yet he’s managed to win an astonishing 61% of his aerial duels. He’s proved himself to be capable of winning duels in plenty of mismatches thanks to his body-to-body strength on the ground.

Not only is he effective and dogged in his defensive work, he is also influential within Ajax’s build-up becoming the foundation for which most of their various phases of play derive from. 

As per FBRef, Timber ranks within the top 10 percentile amongst the defenders in Europe’s top five leagues for passing metrics over the past 365 days. He ranks in the 98th percentile for passes attempted per 90 minutes (79.93), the 99th percentile for pass completion percentage (94.7%), in the 99th percentile for progressive passes (6.45) and the 97th for progressive carries per90 (6.45) meaning he is indeed one of the best around in his build-up play and progressing the ball in the attacking areas for his team.

His positional sense and the team’s advanced position allow him to have a great contribution to their attack. He supplies the advanced areas with 15.51 passes per 90 which is amongst the best record in the league and underlines his impact when progressing the play. 

That, combined with his lack of height for a CB, are the reasons why Ten Hag has relied on him as a right-back on a few occasions. He can easily hold onto the ball and deliver it to the advanced areas and has a passing range that allows him to make combinations with his teammates and exploit spaces.

However, the only reason for him not being able to fully succeed in this position is his hesitancy to cross the ball. Due to his inexperience in this position, he has failed to be beneficial for the team in terms of supplying the box with balls and creating goalscoring opportunities.

Apart from that, he remains outstanding in his passing and ball retention as shown in the stats in percentile stats above.

As stated before, he is incredibly patient with the ball at his feet, willing to bide his time and regularly scan ahead in order to be most effective in Ajax’s passages of play. 

FINAL THOUGHT

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The somewhat caged talents of Timber have shed a light on a player with great promise in possession of the ball. Combined with how seamlessly he applies himself to different roles within such concentrated setups, Timber should, as expressed previously, make the seamless transition to the Premier League. 

Playing again for a manager who has used him effectively over the past year, should once again aid his stunning develop which could in turn make him a tantalizing and important prospect at international level too.

Manchester United will of course be building towards a successful future with young, hungry, highly adaptable and exciting footballers and Timber perfectly fits the bill.

He has shown on the pitch for Ajax that he is the type of player the United hierarchy should now be aiming to recruit rather than players of a marquee standing or players who aren’t motivated to become part of an effective, hard-working and efficient machine under the new regime. 

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