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Ethan Laird: Manchester United’s exciting prospect

Ethan Laird is a name that most Manchester United fans are familiar with, as the exciting young defender has been on the cusp of breaking into the first team squad for what feels like a couple of seasons. 

The right-back seemingly has all the attributes of a top modern defender; pace, defensive ability and attacking quality, however, it has not been plain sailing for the 20-year-old, as injuries blocked his path to the first team. But has the youngster shown enough out on loan to get United fans excited?

Last season, Laird was loaned out for the first time to MK Dons in League One, this loan seemed perfect as Laird was guaranteed minutes and could also learn a lot about the game in a tough League. 

Across all competitions, Laird made 25 appearances, contributing four assists for his new club. He had the trust of his manager as, for the 25 games he was available for in the league, Laird started 23.

He was only sent on loan in the January, as reported by the club, so the fact that Laird slotted straight into the team halfway through the season and was instantly trusted shows the quality he brought to his new club.  

After this successful spell, there were some wondering if Laird would be in the first team squad for the upcoming 2021/22 season with the future of Diogo Dalot under consideration after his loan at AC Milan.

However, United chose to keep hold of Dalot for the 2021/22 season, meaning Laird would need to prove himself out on loan yet again, this time in the Championship. 

United sent Laird out on loan to Swansea City, as announced by the club in August of 2021. The choice of club seemingly being due to the fact that Russell Martin had been newly appointed as Swansea’s boss, who was the manager at MK Dons the season previous, as reported by Manchester United. This was a huge positive for Laird as he knew that he would be trusted by the manager at his new club. 

Once again it seems Laird has settled in quickly to life in the Championship, it should be mentioned that being a young defender in the Championship is notoriously difficult due to the battles that occur all over the pitch. Laird has made 16 appearances across all competitions for the Swans, contributing four assists during that time, only a quarter into the season. 

It was recently reported by the BBC that Laird views his stint at Swansea as a stepping stone on his way to a first team spot at United, he also went on to say that‘I know they (Manchester United’s first team coaching staff) are watching me, which is nice’. This shows the ambition within the youngster to strive and work hard for his place in Manchester United’s first team, he is doing everything right at the moment. 

There is certainly a way into United’s first team for the young right-back as currently the performances of Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been criticised, along with the rest of United’s defence. It also appears back up right back Diogo Dalot has fallen completely out of favour, with the Portuguese defender only accumulating 321 minutes in all competitions for United this season

If Laird carries on in this vein of form, there is every chance that he could be in and around the first team come next season, as United’s defence look to be missing a young, hungry, and talented defender as this current moment. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Loan Watch: Pereira, Chong, Williams, Tuanzebe and more rated during loan spells

This season Manchester United look to have taken full advantage of the loan system in place this season, sending 15 players out on loan to various clubs within the country, and some abroad. United have a past of making good use of the loan system to develop promising players within the academy and getting them acclimatised to the pace and harshness of the adult leagues. A key example of this being David Beckham’s loan to Preston North End in 1995. So how are this seasons loanees getting on? 

Andreas Pereira – Flemengo

Pereira is a conundrum for many United fans as he is a player who has shown signs of immense ability but has never managed to be consistent when given the chance in United’s first team. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave the Brazilian ample opportunity in the 2019/20 season, consistently starting the Academy player in midfield, however, the midfielder only managed two goals and four assists in 40 appearances for United. 

After the singing of Bruno Fernandes, who plays in the same position as Pereira, United deciding a loan was the best thing for the player. After a disappointing loan spell at Lazio last season, the Brazilian decided to play in his native country, choosing to play for Flamengo. 

The playmaker has played 10 games for the Brazilian club, netting two goals and one assist. While these numbers are not disastrous, it is worrying that in a league that is far below the standard of the Premier League Pereira is not shining and standing out. Interestingly, the loan deal does include a £20 million option to buy, should the midfielder be a success at the club. 

With the way things are going at Manchester United, it would not surprise any Manchester United fan is the Academy player were to stay at Flemengo and leave Manchester for good. 

For now, the loan spell is seemingly average. 5/10. 

Facundo Pellistri – Deportivo Alaves

Pellistri was possibly the most surprising signing United made in the 2020 summer transfer window, with the winger being signed on deadline day for around £10 million. Pellistri was an unknown to United fans who were eager to see what the winger could do. 

United have sent the youngster on two consecutive loans to Alaves in La Liga, last season he made 12 appearancesfor the club but managed no attacking returns during this time. However, Pellistri was sent during January so did not have a full season to bed in and show his ability. 

This season, United did not hesitate in sending Pellistri back to the La Liga outfit, making sure he was there for the start of the season ready to hit the ground running. It would seem as though the Uruguayan is not in favour at the club, having only made seven appearances this season most of which coming off the bench. 

His total appearances add up to only 195 minutes so far. This loan has been so disappointing that reports have begun emerging this week that Manchester United are considering recalling Pellistri prematurely, this is due to a concern over lack of playing time and a clause that was in the loan agreement stating that United had the power to recall the player in December 2020 if he has not played 1000 minutes for the club by December, as reported by The Mirror

This has been a disappointing start to his loan for Pellistri. 2/10. 

Brandon Williams – Norwich City

Brandon Williams is a player who burst onto the scene at United in the 2019/20 season, with Solskjaer giving the fullback from the academy 2,439 minutes across all competitions. During his breakout season the Academy player managed one goal and two assists, but also racked up 10 yellow cards during this season, which comes as no surprise to United fans who know of the youngster’s temperament. 

Even so it was a positive break out season for the left back and many United fans thought he was here to stay as a back-up for Luke Shaw. The following season however, Williams played much less, playing only 658 minutes all season. This being the main reason why United fans were not surprised to hear the Academy player had been sent on loan to fellow Premier League club Norwich this season to gain playing time. 

Norwich is seemingly the perfect fit for a player like Williams as he is guaranteed playing time but is still playing at the same level, he would be had he stayed at United. However, Norwich have gotten off to a very rocky start, having lost all of their six opening games in the season and drawing their seventh, sitting rock bottom of the League with one point. 

Williams was starting every game in the league, getting full 90 minutes under his belt, that is, before the Burnley game. Williams was benched for the Burnley game and did not make an appearance off the bench. Once more, this is the only game of the season in which Norwich have kept a clean sheet, and it came without Williams in their defence. Hopefully, after the international break, Williams will be back in the starting eleven, gaining valuable experience at the highest level. 

So far, despite Norwich’s poor form, Williams has been playing many minutes for a Premier League club, which is a success. 8/10. 

Axel Tuanzebe – Aston Villa

Tuanzebe is a player who has been on the radar of United fans for many years. In the past the centre back has had very successful loans, even gaining promotion to the Premier League while on loan at Aston Villa in the 2018/19 season. After this loan spell Tuanzebe was kept in the United squad with hopes the Academy graduate could start to break into the first team. 

However, his 2019/20 campaign was plagued with injuries with the centre back picking up a hip injury, a thigh injury and an ankle injury all at various points of the season. This limited his playing time significantly, only managing 701 first team minutes that season. 

The following season was slightly better for the defender who made 19 appearances for United across all competitions and racked up 918 minutes, however, this was not nearly enough playing time for the defender to develop sufficiently, and with the signing of elite centre back Raphael Varane in the 2021 summer transfer window, club and player decided another season on loan would be to the benefit of all parties. 

So far, the loan has been decent for Tuanzebe, with the defender having already played three full games in the League, something that would not have happened at United this season and has been a key part of the Villa defence. 

It must also be noted that Aston Villa are a team with strong players in their defence such as Tyrone Mings, meaning Tuanzebe does not walk into their starting elven every week, as can be seen by the fact he was benched in the last game before the international break against Tottenham Hotspur. This competition for places is good for the defender as it ingrains a work ethic and desire to break into the starting eleven every week, something that will benefit him on his return to United. 

Starting for strong Premier League clubs is a very good sign. 8/10. 

Connor Stanley – Atlanta United 2

The 19-year-old winger surprised many by choosing a loan deal to MLS outfit, Atlanta United’s second team, Atlanta United 2, to develop his skills. The winger seemed overjoyed about the loan stating ‘I am so happy and excited about the opportunity ahead of me’, as was reported by Manchester United. The winger certainly seems to be enjoying life in the USL Championship, having made 25 appearances, scoring one goal and getting three assists.

However, there are question marks over this loan. Most notably, whether experience in the second tier of the MLS is experience that will benefit the player on his return the England. Fans must wonder if a loan to a lower League English club, or European Club, would have been much more beneficial. 

The playing time is good, but the league leaves a lot to be desired. 5/10.

Nathan Bishop – Mansfield Town

United’s Academy goalkeeper Bishop is on loan at League Two outfit Mansfield, and has started every game he has been available for, playing the full 90 minutes every time. He has only managed one clean sheet, however, in a League such as League Two, clean sheets are always hard to come by. The fact he is starting every game is a very good sign and is invaluable for a young keeper. It may be a baptism of fire but playing in tough leagues is often crucial for the development of a keeper. 

Manchester United fans should be pleased that Bishop is gaining crucial experience. 7/10. 

Dylan Levitt – Dundee United

After two disappointing loan spells last season for Levitt, To Charlton Athletic and Croatian club NK Istra, Manchester United fans were hopeful that a full campaign in the Scottish Premiere League would restart the development of the midfielder, who has always shown great promise in the Academy. 

So far, this loan has gotten off to a better start than the previous one at Charlton Athletic, with Levitt making an appearance in every league game he has been available for. He has made seven appearances across all competitions, racking up 592 minutes already. He is being played primarily as a central defensive midfielder, which means he has made no attacking contributions so far, however, this is not the main focus for a player in this position. 

So far in the league Dundee have been a mixed back, winning three, drawing two and losing one of their games so far, this is valuable for Levitt as he can not only develop his skills in a tough league but also understand the highs and lows of the game. 

United fans should be happy that this loan deal looks to be working out much better than the ones previously for Levitt, let’s hope it stays that way. 7/10. 

James Garner – Nottingham Forest

James Garner was a loan success story last season, after switching from Watford to Nottingham Forest in January of last year, Garner became a vital player for the Championship club. He played a huge 1,700 minutes for the club across all competitions, making 20 appearances as scoring four goals from a defensive midfielder position. The Forest fans loved Garner and reacted extremely positive when a second loan deal for the 2021/22 season was announced, as was reported by The Nottingham Post, with some fans stating the club ‘really need him’.  

Garner himself was pleased by the opportunity to go on loan a second time to the club stating‘I’m ready to go and showcase my ability to everyone’. However, there has been cause for concern after manager Chris Houghton was sacked by the club after taking just one point from the clubs first seven games of the season, as reported by Sky Sports

This does not seem to have affected Garner who has started every game in the Championship, besides the most recent game against Birmingham City in which he came on as a substitute. He has made no attacking returns yet, but for a defensive midfielder that is not cause for concern. 

United fans will hope that Garners most recent substitute appearance does not become a regular thing for the midfielder, but having started all other games for Forest, there is no concern just yet. 7/10. 

Ethan Laird – Swansea City

Last season Laird shone on loan at MK Dons in League One, making 24 appearances and getting four assists from right back. This season United wanted the academy payer to have a step up in difficulty, this time loaning him to Championship club Swansea. 

The right back has hit the ground running once again, making 10 appearances in all competitions so far and getting two assists during that time. He has been in the starting XI seven times out of nine in the League and has made substitute appearances both times that he has been benched. The team have kept five clean sheets so far in the League which is extremely impressive and Laird has been a key part of the defensive unit that has achieved this. 

It seems to be so far so good for the defender, with the step up to the Championship having seemingly not affected the 20-year-old at all. 8/10. 

Tahith Chong – Birmingham City

There can be no doubt about it, so far this season, Tahith Chong is United’s biggest loan success story. After two rocky loan spells last season to Werder Bremen and Club Brugge respectively, Chong has worked hard and earnt a loan to Championship club Birmingham and has hit the best form of his career since playing in the Academy. 

He has started every single league game that he has been available for, making 10 appearances across all competitions and getting two assists during this time. However, stats alone cannot paint the whole picture of just how well Chong has settled into life at Birmingham. ESPN recently reported that United legend Wayne Rooney has commented on Chong’s performances at Birmingham stating Chong is a ’very talented player who can really hurt you’,the report also noted that Solskjaer had been in touch with Chong over his fantastic performances in the Championship, letting the youngster know that he is watching. 

It is seemingly a loan deal match made in heaven for Chong who has completely hit his stride. 10/10. 

Ethan Galbraith – Doncaster Rovers

Galbraith is another Academy player who has been on the radar of United fans for quite some time, so when it was announced at the start of the season that Galbraith would be playing his football on loan at Doncaster Rovers in League One, fans were intrigued to see how the player got on in the competitive league. 

It is fair to say that the 20 year old has settled in to life in League One very well, he has started every game in the league that he has been available for, playing the full 90 minutes in all games bar one in the league. 

This shows a high level in trust from the manager to play a young player in the heart of the midfield in a league as tough as League One, this insinuates that Galbraith is more than holding his own. He has also managed one assistduring this time, which from midfield, is impressive. 

United fans will be hoping the young midfielder will go from strength to strength and keep up his strong form. 9/10. 

Di’Shon Bernard – Hull City

20-year-old Bernard had a disappointing spell on loan at Salford City last season where he barely played. This season the player had made a huge step up to the Championship, which is seeming to pay off. Out of the 11 league games the young defender has been available for, he has started six, playing the full 90 minutes each time.

Loan deals are notoriously tough for young defenders as managers are often hesitant to trust inexperienced players in defence, especially in leagues such as the Championship in which every point is hard fought for. 

The trust shown in Bernard insinuates that he has impressed his manager and his teammates and has been given the opportunity off the back of this. So far Bernard has helped keep two clean sheets for Hull, a number he will be wanting to build upon before his loan ends.

United fans should be certainly keeping an eye on Bernard as one for the future. 7/10. 

Overall, it looks positive for United’s loanees this season, with many gaining valuable playing time in respectable leagues. It should be noted that there are three other United youngsters out on loan who have not played enough to be considered here. Will Fish at Stockport County, D’Mani Mellor at Salford City and Reece Devine at St Johnstone. Hopefully these youngsters can break into their loan clubs and make an impression soon. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Rise to Fame: Ethan Laird a future right-back at Manchester United?

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.”

During the 2019/20 season, Laird finished the season with 15 appearances, scoring one goal and three assists – two of the appearances were in the UEFA Europa League. He was not ready to challenge Wan-Bissaka this season and was loaned out to MK Dons in January after having played four times for United at the start of the season – getting one assist to his name. So far at the League One club, the 19-year-old has made a total of 21 appearances, with three assists to his name – so far making it 25 appearances and four assists across the season for both clubs.

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 he himself has been loaned out to AC Milan for the season and his future is up in the air at this time. Also, Solskjaer had used his further forward at times, which could leave Wan-Bissaka’s understudy role free for Laird to make his own, maybe?

The future seems good for Laird, whether at United or not. Perhaps he could benefit by moving up to the Championship on loan next season, then maybe playing for a lower Premier League team, unless the coaches feel he could make the step up, which might not be the case. Laird has found some consistency, playing in all League One matches since he signed for the Dons and also playing in the Emirates FA Cup, which was a 5-4 penalty defeat to Premier League club Burnley. I am sure Solskjaer is watching him and keeping his fingers crossed that he keeps developing and first team football will help him achieve just that.

Written by John Walker

Eight talented academy players that Solskjaer could promote in the future

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a whole host of talent in his squad at the Old Trafford club but to continue putting his mark on the team he will be seeking to do something similar to what Sir Alex Ferguson did at the club – continuing to trust the clubs talented youth players and giving them opportunities to succeed in the first team, which is the way the club has been run for over a century. This is the DNA of United, the main thing that keeps supporters supporting the club.

When you talk about United, two things seem synonymous – the Busby Babes and the Class of 1992. Both incarnations involved talent youth players making up a lot of the squad and guiding the club to glory, which is what both levels did, albeit one of them, the Busby Babes were ended after that fateful plane crash in Munich on the 6 February 1958. Ten years later though, Sir Matt Busby honoured their deaths with a European Cup victory, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley Stadium.

For Solskjaer to create his own style at United, which like Ferguson’s was moulded on the style of Busby – fast-paced attacking football with United pushing themselves on the opposition, in their half, for the majority of the match, which is what Solskjaer has started to implement and has been sown for much of 2020 so far, especially after the Premier League restart because of the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football for about three months in mid-March.

Solskjaer will be looking to bring in a few new faces this summer, to continue United’s rise, also seeking to end a few careers at the club, making way for new faces – some of which will be from the clubs successful academy, which helped the Busby Babes, the Class of 1992 and other players from other periods to attain their places in the game, many of whom ended up leave the club for pastures new, forming a career for themselves, albeit at a lower or different level to that of United.

Which players from the clubs academy could Solskjaer look to bring through to the first team in the not too distant future and beyond?

There are eight players at this moment in time who are excelling in their abilities at youth level and need to find a way to break into first team football, whether it is under Solskjaer in United’s first team or at another club in the form of a loan spell during the 2020/21 season. Loan spells away from United have been important in the growth of young players. Look what being loaned out has done for United goalkeeper Dean Henderson at Sheffield United. He’s turned into a decent player.

Players such as David Beckham were loaned out before making United’s first team. Not all players will make it though, that is down to football, the opportunity each player has and how they take their chances. This is not a detriment to the abilities of players who did not make the grade at United, their schooling at the club gave them something, many of them forming careers in the game. The eight players that Solskjaer should keep an eye on are detailed below;

Ethan Laird, 18

The right-back is a player who can also play at left-back and in the central areas of the back four, so will be a player that offers a lot to Solskjaer. He has been promoted to first team training already and could make an appearance soon, having already made his debut in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana in Kazakhstan in November. At youth level, Laird has played 54 times, scoring four goals and 16 assists. He could well be the player that takes on Aaron Wan-Bissaka for the right-back role.

Teden Mengi, 18

The central defender is the player that has been tipped to be the next youth player to make it into the first team. He has been training with Solskjaer’s squad for a while – he has been around the first team but has not yet played. In three seasons at youth level, he has played 50 times, scoring twice and assisting five times. With a lack of depth in defence at this stage of the season, Mengi could be crucial in the remaining matches of the season, albeit on the bench but could get a run out sooner rather than later.

Di’Shon Bernard, 19

Another central defender that could offer more will keep Solskjaer happy. He seems to be inundated with quality defenders coming through the youth ranks. Like Laird, Bernard made his debut in the UEFA Europa League back in November against FC Astana. At youth level, finishing his third season at United, the defender has made 55 appearances, scoring five goals and one assist – showing his class from the back, which is something that might get him noticed by Solskjaer in the future.

James Garner, 19

Perhaps one of the more experienced players on this list and possibly one who has the talent to play in the first team now, although I feel a season on loan for him would do him the world of good during his career, which is likely to be at United, unless something goes dreadfully wrong. In four seasons at the club, he has made seven first team appearances, assisting one goal. At youth level, he has made 63 appearances, scoring 14 goals and nine assists. A talented midfielder just waiting for that chance. Hopefully Solskjaer will have some plans for him.

Ethan Galbraith, 19

The Northern Ireland midfielder operates in a withdrawn, defensive area, which is a position that Solskjaer will need to make arrangements for in the future, with Nemanja Matic not getting any younger, but options are there for him to be implemented, if he passes the tests Solskjaer will likely put in place with Nicky Butt now in charge of first team progression from academy level. Came off the bench for the first team already this season and will be seeking progress there. At academy level, he’s played 60 times, scoring eight goals and six assists.

Dylan Levitt, 19

The Welsh midfielder is a bit like Garner, has experience at youth level and has made his debut in the first team although eh has not played as much as his young teammate. Levitt is a midfielder who can get on the ball, dictate play and get into important goalscoring positions. During his time in the academy, where he has finished his third season, Levitt has made a total of 74 appearances, scoring 14 goals and 16 assists – showing his quality on the ball and a player who could excite Solskjaer and the Old Trafford faithful for years to come. Like Garner, a loan spell away from United could be beneficial, unless Solskjaer has plans.

Hannibal Mejbri, 17

The 17-year-old French midfielder is a player that has a lot of backing at United and Nicky Butt, a former academy graduate and part of the famous Class of 92 was part of the team that brought Mejbri from AS Monaco last summer. It was a high-profile transfer considering the age of the player, who was 16 at the time, with many clubs seemingly interested in him with United pulling it off. Mejbri has played 20 times at academy level, scoring one goal and five assists. He’s going to be a quality player.

D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, 19

The 19-year-old is an exciting player who can play a variety of positions in the wide areas, through the middle of the midfield, behind the striker and playing as a centre-forward, which is the position he has played regularly this season at youth level. He’s been at United all his playing career and will be seeking to force himself into Solskjaer’s plans in the short-term future. He’s already made his debut, albeit off the bench, so has a little experience. At youth level, he’s made 60 appearances, scoring 15 goals and nine assists, which bodes well for the future, if he can keep creation and goalscoring coming.

There will no doubt be more names to add to this list in the future but these eight players could have the ingredients for Solskjaer to keep a close eye on their progress in the academy, seeking that spark which could get them in the first team regularly. Some players will benefit from being loaned out next season, others will benefit from being given chances in the first team sparingly, giving them a taste of the action and what will be required to achieve a position at that level more often. The future certainly looks exciting for United and these eight payers.

Written by John Walker

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plans to promote ‘one or two’ Manchester United youth players next season after Ethan Laird and Teden Mengi impress him

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes that ‘one or two’ young players could be promoted to the first team from the clubs academy ahead of next season. Solskjaer has been impressed with the liked of Teden Mengi and Ethan Laird, who have both been promoted to first team training this season.

This season has already seen the likes of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams make the transition from the youth levels to become first team regulars, which will keep the dreams of many youth players in the academy of the club alive, following their dream to one day represent United on the pitch at first team level.

Greenwood has become a revelation for United this season with the gals that he has scored for the club, seemingly making it look each to adapt from U18, U19 and U23 level football and onward into the first team. United’s academy has many talented young players seeking to take the same route as the 18-year-old has this season.

Solskjaer feels that his current squad in nearing completion, needing a few more additions during the summer transfer window to strengthen in weaker areas. However, to add an injection of youth into the team, which Sir Alex Ferguson did on many occasions, the Norwegian will look to the youth levels and see what he has, having a few good names to choose from. Solskjaer said:

“We just have to focus. I don’t think one second if any other team is worried about us, we have to worry about ourselves.

“If we keep on improving and building an environment in the training ground and keep building on the culture, add one or two youngsters, maybe add players who can challenge those who we have got here.

“Of course it’s exciting, but we can’t think that far. You don’t really have the time or focus.

“You can’t think three months ahead now with players who are in and around the first-team.

“Of course, there are youngsters who you know are going to go out on loan, that need exposure, game time.

“But those who are in and around the first-team now, they only have one focus, and that’s Southampton, then it’s onto the next one. We need to finish the season strong.”

Along with Greenwood, Williams, Tahith Chong and James Garner, the likes of Di’Shon Bernard, Dylan Levitt, Ethan Galbraith and D’Mani Bughail-Mellor all featured in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana earlier this season, showing the progression of the youth level at the club, which under Solskjaer, aims to be just as good as it was under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Both Laird and Mengi have been tipped to make the step up from youth level football. Mengi, 18, is the captain of the U18 squad, playing in central defence – an area that United will need to strengthen this summer, if Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and/or Marcos Rojo all leave the Old Trafford club. Mengi has impressed in training with glow appraisals.

Laird, 18, is also a defender, able to play across the back four in fullback (right and left) and in both central defensive positions. Laird has been promoted to first team training because of injuries to Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones, which could see him get on the pitch in the next few weeks, which will be another exciting prospect for the teenager.

Laird is contracted at United until the summer of 2023, with the option of a further year to be added, which gives him a fair chance to get himself into the first team in some capacity over the next year or so. Mengi signed his first professional contract at the club at the start of the season, which will expire in the summer of 2022 giving him the opportunity to shine.

Ethan Laird promoted to first team training with Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones out of action

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has promoted 18-year-old Ethan Laird to first team training as the Norwegian has both Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones out of action, creating more depth in the defensive positions for the remainder of the season. This was a rumour earlier in the week which has now been confirmed by the manager.

Tuanzebe has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a September return looking likely for the defender. Jones has seemingly been ruled out for a few more weeks after missing the Premier League restart so far – perhaps he will miss the remainder of the season, here’ hoping. United will do well promoting youth into the squad.

Laird is not expected to feature against Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon but he could be drafted in in the weeks to come with United playing six more matches before the end of the month after they face Bournemouth at the Theatre of Dreams. Solskjaer has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire ready for selection this weekend.

Solskjaer confirmed the news during his pre-match press conference held on Friday morning, confirming that Tuanzebe would be out of action until at least September and Jones being on the sidelines for a few more weeks, which is something that many will be happy with. Laird is a fullback but he can play through the centre of defence too. Solskjaer said:

“Of course there are a couple of knocks. You do start feeling things now after a little bit, so there might be a couple of changes but let’s see today.

“The boys who didn’t play on Tuesday want to play and are ready to step in if they have to.

“Phil [Jones] and Axel [Tuanzebe] will still be out for a little while. It’ll be a few weeks before Phil can start training and Axel, we won’t probably see until September.

“Ethan is going to join the training group now.”

It will be good to see the player involved in training with the first team players, which will help him grow, being involved with experienced players and learning from them ahead of his big break which could see him play as a semi-regular player for the remainder of the season. Next month, United return to UEFA Europa League action, so he could be involved from time to time in that competition.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set to promote Ethan Laird to first team training, keeping one eye on the future

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will promote academy fullback Ethan Laird to first team training, keeping an eye on his progress at the club, presumably looking ahead to the future. The 18-year-old will join fellow academy graduates Mason Greenwood, James Garner, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Teden Mengi in training sessions.

Laird, 18, is comfortable playing in the right-back position or even in the centre of defence, which at this present time could give him an opportunity with the liked of Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones on the sidelines through injury and the fact that Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo are both away from the club on loan.

This season, albeit at U23 level, Laird has impressed after returning from an injury at the very start of the season. He even made his first team debut against FC Astana back in November, appearing against AZ Alkmaar a fortnight later, which gave him a taste of things to come at the club under Solskjaer, which will be good for both the player and club.

Laird will be able to sharpen his skills in the game by training with the first team players, seeing what he will need to reach to become a regular in the squad. He might not get a chance this season, unless United reach their objective at some stage before the end of the season. Speaking about training and his players, also mentioning Laird, Solskjaer said:

“They keep on working every single day. Jimmy [Garner] is training with us, Ethan [Laird] will probably come in with the group, Teden has been there.

“Tahith [Chong] and Angel [Gomes] have been working hard behind the scenes. Hopefully, they keep on developing and get an opportunity and I’m sure they’ll take it.”

Laird signed for United as a nine-year-old and alongside playing for United at various youth levels, he has been capped for England at U17, U18 and U19 level and will be seeking to continue representing his country at every level possible. It will be exciting for Laird as a player to train alongside the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who could teach him a lot at the club.

copyright: JW