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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

Dylan Levitt is off to Charlton Athletic with the advice of Ryan Giggs

Manchester United academy midfielder Dylan Levitt looks set to sign for League One club Charlton Athletic on loan for the 2020/21 season. The 19-year-old was given his first Wales start last week in a 1-0 UEFA Nations League victory over Finland, playing 90 minutes in a match which United teammate Daniel James got the equaliser for the only goal of the game. Levitt was an unused substitute in the 1-0 victory over Bulgaria on Sunday. I looks like the Welshman has a good career ahead of him.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer holds some faith in the teenager after giving him his United debut last season in a UEFA Europa League group stage match against FC Astana in Kazakhstan in which United lost the match with a 2-1 scoreline. Charlton Athletic were relegated from the Championship during the 2019/20 season and manager Lee Bowyer, who was a former teammate of United’s head of first team development Nicky Butt at Newcastle United, sought to add some energy into his midfield.

Former United winger and current Wales manager Ryan Giggs rates Levitt highly, giving him his first start for Wales last week and always speaking positively of the player. With the midfield pretty ,much stacked at United, loaning the 19-year-old out this season will be the best way to give him some experience. Giggs is happy with his passing from a deep lying midfield role, which could be something he perfects in League One this season. Giggs, previously told the official Manchester United website:

“When Dylan was in the squad, we had must-win games so I couldn’t really throw him in and put him in that pressure cooker. But, in training, he’s one of the best. He’s my kind of player – a good character, quiet but tough, and he’s one that I’ll be taking a big look at over the next year or so.

“I want him to develop and if he does and, if he plays more games, then he’ll definitely be in the reckoning. He’s a really intelligent player with a good range of passing and he stands out in training in every session. As I said, it’s just a shame that I couldn’t get him on the pitch.”

During the 2019/20 season, Levitt had become a key player in Neil Ryan’s U23 side and got the benefit of playing in the UEFA Europa League for United’s first team, also participating in the EFL Trophy as part of a United U21 side, in both competitions playing against other first team clubs, which is great development for young players – not as good as being loaned out to other clubs though, which Levitt will experience this season at Charlton, which could be good for him.

During his time in United’s academy, playing at U18, U19 and U23 level, Levitt made a total of 74 appearances, starting 56 times and coming off the bench 18 times, scoring 14 goals and 16 assists, which shows his ability in the game, which could also benefit him at Charlton. Levitt recently signed a contract at United which will keep him at the Old Trafford club until the summer of 2022, although there is a clause to add a further year onto that deal, as is the case with new contracts and contract renewals at United.

Levitt could link up with former United goalkeeper Ben Amos, and Wales teammate Jonny Williams, which could help him settle into the League One club. This season could be a good one for the young Welshman who could do enough to cause Solskjaer a headache next summer with the manager seeking to find a place for him in the United squad amongst the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek, Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic and James Garner – which I am sure will be a good headache for the manager.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW