Tim Iroegbunam – The Future of Aston Villa Midfield by Shay Hicks
Name: Timothy Emeka Iroegbunam
D.O.B: 30/06/2003 (19 years old)
Height: 186cm (6’1″)
Strong Foot: Right
Current Club: Queens Park Rangers (on loan from Aston Villa)
Position: Centre Midfielder, Defensive Midfielder
Value: £2.70m (via Transfermarkt)
Tim Iroegbunam is a young central midfielder who is at the heart of high-flying QPR’s promotion push. Although this is his first season of regular first-team football, Tim has cemented himself as one of the first names on first year head coach Michael Beales’ team sheet, and with the performances he has put in so far this season it isn’t hard to see why.
Tim’s footballing life started with local side Sutton United, where interestingly he played alongside current Aston Villa teammate and former La Masia academy player Louie Barry. Eventually he signed on to play in the West Brom academy, and spent several years impressing in their youth system. He would eventually make one first-team squad whilst at West Brom, being named as an unused substitute in a Premier League game against Leeds in May 2021. In the following summer, Tim made the switch to the nearby Aston Villa for an undisclosed fee. Initially, Tim was placed into the clubs’ under-23 squad, although he would make his first appearance on the first-team bench in December of 2021. He would be named on the bench of the senior team for several more premier league games in the 2021/22 season, before finally making his professional debut as a late substitute in late Feburary. His impressive performances in training and sporadic inclusion in first-team squads lead to Tim signing a long-term contract extension in March of 2022, and his new deal would see him commit to the club until 2027. March would also see the beginning of Tim’s international career, as he was simultaneously called up to England’s under-19 and under-20 squads. He would make his debut for the u19’s in a 3-1 win versus the Republic of Ireland. As a reflection of his hard work in his short time with the club, Tim was awarded with his first Premier League start for Villa against Norwich in late April. A few months later, he played an important role in England’s European Under- 19 Championship-winning side, making several appearances and coming off the bench to appear in the final against Israel.
Although he had impressed in his cameo appearances for the club and in training, the arrival of Boubacar Kamara on a free transfer from Marseille meant that Tim’s chances of first-team minutes were much lower than the previous season. So, despite being highly touted by many at Aston Villa, he was sent to Championship side QPR on loan for the 2022/23 season. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise for Tim due to the recent hiring of Michael Beale as first-team coach. Beale was a fairly unknown name to many at the time, but he had previously worked as an assistant coach to Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Aston Villa. Beale already had a good understanding of Tim from his time at Villa, which most likely played a large part in his loan signing for the club. Tim signed for the club on 1st September and made his debut just two days later in a defeat to Swansea. He has gone on to become a regular starter for the club as they have defied expectations and made an early push toward the top of the table. Tim will undoubtedly have one eye on his long-term future at Aston Villa with the arrival of highly regarded head coach Unai Emery, so he will surely be hoping to extend his good run of form through the rest of the season.
Notable dates in Tim Iroegbunam’s career:
– 23/05/2021 – Makes his first West Brom Premier League squad
– 29/07/2021 – Signs for Aston Villa for an undisclosed fee
– 05/12/2021 – Makes his first Aston Villa Premier League squad
– 26/02/2022 – Makes his professional and Premier League debut
– 18/03/2022 – Signs a new 5-year contract with Aston Villa, earns his first call up to England u19s and u20s
– 23/03/2022 – Makes his u19s international debut
– 30/04/2022 – First Premier League start
– 17/06/2022 – Named in the England squad for the European Under 19 Championships
– 01/07/2022 – Appears as a sub as England win the European Under 19 Championship final vs Israel
– 01/09/2022 – Joins Queens Park Rangers on a season-long loan
– 03/09/2022 – Makes his debut for Queens Park Rangers
– 21/09/2022 – Makes his England u20s debut
Performance analysis: Norwich vs QPR, 02/10/2022:
– Made a reckless challenge early on, had to play on a yellow card for 88 minutes
– Showed good spatial awareness at times to fend off the press, get his body between the ball and oncoming defenders and win free kicks
– Showed his technical ability with a series of short passes that helped to either start or progress attacking moves
– However, he could have been slightly more accurate with his more ambitious passes in the final third
– Displayed his strength and confidence on ball to carry the ball forward into the final third
– Lost the ball high up the pitch, but used his long legs and awareness to collect a wayward pass on the edge of the box seconds later and forced Norwich keeper Angus Gunn to make a good save at his near post
– Always had his head up and held his position well in defence
– Frequently made off-ball runs from midfield into the attacking third, looked to give and go as QPR started maintaining better field position and attacking more frequently
– Wasn’t able to impose his physicality in midfield as much as usual due to his early yellow card
– Looked calm on the ball when a passing option wasn’t immediately available, looked to hold onto the ball and didn’t panic when pressured. Rarely gave the ball away in the middle of the park
– Did extremely well to stop a Norwich counter-attack late on, held his position as the last man well and made a smart challenge without diving in
– Displayed very good stamina, which allowed him to be effective in defense and attack until the final whistle
– Temporarily switched off in the 95th minute, made a good challenge but was unaware of an oncoming midfielder who gathered the loose ball and triggered the final attack of the game for Norwich
Tim drops deeper into his own defence with possession of the ball. He stays composed on the ball with two players pressing him, and uses his dribbling ability to run between them and progress play with a forward pass.
Tim likes to regularly roam forward in attack, most often on the left flank. Here, he sees an opening in front of him, so he makes a run into space to receive the ball. He has enough time and space to get a cross off, but it is blocked.
Tim uses a combination of his defensive awareness, speed and tackling ability to make a superb defensive play late in the game. Tim recognises the attacking run from the Norwich player immediately and tracks it from the moment Norwich start the attack. The Norwich player times his run extremely well, but Tim’s speed allows him to catch up to the ball and position himself between the player and the goal. He then remains calm, stays on his feet and makes a very important challenge to end the Norwich attack.
Considering the circumstances, Tim had a very good performance overall. Making a reckless challenge in the first minute of the game is inexcusable and playing on a yellow card away from home for 88 minutes can be a deathwish at times, but ultimately it is the type of mistake that any young player could make, and he will learn to not make those mistakes with experience. It was a shame that he wasn’t able to show his physical prowess as much as a result, but he still managed to deliver a complete performance which saw him be named the Man of the Match. He displayed good composure and ball-winning ability defensively, as well as his confidence, passing accuracy and positive forward runs offensively. He was still able to be an extremely effective player on both sides of the ball, and his late-game heroics stopping a counter-attack and still looking to help his side grab a winning goal are testament to his self-confidence and his winning mindset, two things that young players consistently struggle with when given the responsibilities he currently has. Heading into the game I thought of Iroegbunam as more of a defensive-minded player, but his short passing accuracy, calculated runs and overall technical ability really impressed me. Overall, another solid performance for a QPR side that continues to defy expectations this season.
If Tim’s self-confidence is as high off the pitch as it is on it, then he will surely be thinking of what opportunity will give him the most amount of game time against the highest level of competition next season. Whilst Gerrard held him in high regard during his time at Aston Villa, he will have to impress new boss Unai Emery in the early stages of his reign at the club. Whilst he may need to tighten up on certain parts of his game, I see no reason why Tim wouldn’t be able to compete for a role in Aston Villa’s first team squad as soon as next season. However, Michael Beale also thinks very highly of Iroegbunam, and if QPR can somehow continue this improbable run towards the top of the Championship table and either compete for or win promotion to the Premier League, I think they would have to at least try to go after Tim on a permanent deal. Either way, there is no doubt that Tim will eventually become a Premier League standard central midfielder in the next few seasons.