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Rise to Fame: Ethan Laird – the heir to Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back?

Ethan Laird was born in Basingstoke but was raised in Manchester and joined Manchester United at the age of 10. Since making his debut at U18 level during the 2017/18 season, Laird has made 54 appearances at academy level, scoring four goals and assisting a further 16. Earlier this season, in the UEFA Europa League against Astana in Kazakhstan, which is something that will leave him thirsty for more in the future.

During his time in the academy, Laird has built a reputation for himself which shows him as a very tough tackler, he can attack from either side, playing at fullback and is known to be very quick when running short distances, which is something United will be looking to add to the first team, especially as a rotation option for Aaron Wan-Bissaka – leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a decision to make in that area.

During the 2019/20 season, Laird found himself in the U23 squad and has played 13 times at that level, scoring one goal, which was United’s first in the Leasing.com EFL Trophy against Rotherham United back in August 2019, also adding three assists to his tally. Laird was included in the Europa League squad this season and travelled to Belgrade for United’s match against Partizan, however, he did not make the final cut.

On the 25 February 2020, it was announced by the official Manchester United website that Laird had signed a new contract at the club, keeping at the Theatre of Dreams until June 2023, with an option to add a further year to that contract. Between now and that, Laird will be seeking to impress coached Neil Wood and aim to keep his development on track, then comes the hard part, breaking into Solskjaer’s team.

Laird has been impressive throughout his journey and could be a great option for United’s right-back in the years to come. At 18 though, he has a long way to go to become first team standard. He will be given chances along the way to show the level he needs to get to in order to be a mainstay in the first team and there is nothing that should stop him from aiming to reach that level. Wan-Bissaka is the player to beat though.

The 18-year-old has plenty of pace, which is something that will benefit him throughout his career and it is something that United seem to be utilising at this moment in time with no out and out wingers in the team, leaving some attacking plays to be made from the fullback positions. Perfecting this ability during the remainder of the season, when it plays out, and beyond, should be his aim.

Since Solskjaer took over the reins at United, after the sacking of Jose Mourinho, it was clear the Norwegian had been doing his homework. He clearly had an idea of the players that the club had, including those that were in the academy at the time. Solskjaer mentioned Laird in some old comments, which showed that he had seen just what he is capable of. The United manager said:

“We have quite a few talents in that youth team that you’d like to see and you probably will see at some point before next season. 

“Because that’s what it’s about now, for me to put the club and put the team in a good position when at the end of the season, how do we look like, what will we look like next season.

“Mason [Greenwood], Jimmy Garner, Ethan [Laird], there’s quite a few in that reserve team that are doing well, it’s just about the right time. 

“What Manchester United are going to look like next season with or without me, it doesn’t really matter because I’m here now as part of that to prepare the team for next season. That of course means doing well now.”

Laird was asked about Solskjaer’s comments in an interview with with official Manchester United website, to which he stated:

“It was very nice of him and a privilege, to be honest, that he knows my name. I’ve just got to prove to him I’m good enough to be in his team.

“I’ve seen it with Mason [Greenwood], James [Garner], Angel [Gomes] and Tahith [Chong], some of the starlets of the group, getting their chance and it’s promising. Very promising.”

Laird could be a regular first team player in a year or two, perhaps before if he does something to put himself into serious contention, perhaps not as the regular right-back, but as a rotation option. Diogo Dalot could perhaps be ahead of him in the pecking order but Solskjaer has used his further forward at times, which could leave Wan-Bissaka’s understudy role free for Laird to make his own, maybe?

Written by John Walker

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