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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