Manchester United's young defender Ethan Laird has signed his first professional contract at the club.
The 17-year-old has been in superb form this season, making a real impact for Neil Ryan's Under-18s and Nicky Butt's UEFA Youth League side. Operating at centre-half and full-back, the England Under-18 international displays great strength and speed and has thanked his coaches for aiding his progress.
“It’s like a dream come true,” he told ManUtd.com.
“I know it’s a cliché to say that but it really is. From the age of nine, growing up in the Academy and seeing players above you get to the places you want to be, it’s just something you strive for. I’m really, really happy.
”A lot of sacrifices had to be made and I feel like it’s paying off now. I mean it’s only step one and there are a lot more steps to come, including obviously getting to the final stage, which is the first team.
“I feel like they [the staff] have given me the pro contract and it's them trusting me and believing in me as a player, that I can go far. So I’m really pleased to have trust from Nicky Butt and, obviously, my manager Neil Ryan.”
Capable of helping organise the defence, he captained the Under-18s against Stoke City and is enjoying the extra responsibility in his second year with the team.
In addition to his defensive work, he is a real threat at the other end of the pitch and capable of setting up and scoring goals. His cool approach work for Mason Greenwood's strike against Valencia in the UEFA Youth League win on Tuesday provided further evidence of his growing maturity.
“It’s always different playing in the UEFA Youth League rather than a normal game, Saturday to Saturday,” he said.
“It's the physicality and it’s more intense. There is always that little bit of flair from the other team that you may not get in the other matches. But tactically as well, you have to be aware, concentration wise, so it’s a really good experience.
”Everyone was ecstatic with our performance [against Valencia]. The first half was a little bit tricky as we had to get into the game and had almost a wake-up call. Nicky Butt had a word with us and, in the second half, we went out and ended up with four goals, which was good.
“Mason’s a great finisher. I always think to myself, when I get in and around the box, who can I find? Mason is always in there and I’m glad he put it in. Neil Ryan, Colin Little, Kieran McKenna and Nicky Butt have always been telling me when you get to that stage [in the area], calm everything down as, if you’re in the box, if they touch you, it’s more likely to be a penalty. So calm down, find the pass and, hopefully, it all goes well.”
Laird is now away on international duty with England's Under-18s, along with club colleagues James Garner and Greenwood.
“It was a great experience [last break],” he added.
“We went to France and played a few teams. It was good experience with Jimmy and Mason as well. Yes [that helps] because it’s familiar faces to have a bit of chemistry with your own team-mates. You’re playing in the youth team with them but learning new stuff about them you may not know at United.
”I scored my first international goal – a header. I was very pleased about that one. I was also captain for the second game. It was great experience again for my country.