Laird is chasing his boyhood dream
Ethan Laird has made a positive start to the season with Manchester United and has been included in the England Under-18s squad for the Limoges Tournament.
As Neil Ryan's side prepare to face Middlesbrough on Saturday (kick-off 12:30 BST, live on MUTV), the defender talked in depth about his progress through the ranks.
As a senior member of the Under-18s squad, is one of your jobs to help the new lads settle into the group?
"That’s what I’m looking to do and I feel that’s a job and a role that I have to do because it’s not easy being a first-year, as you’re coming into a new age group with new players and you have to get used to the training and everything else you have to do within the age group.”
Is the leadership role one that you really embrace?
“Yes, of course, especially as a second-year and one of the senior ones, as in experience as opposed to age. I feel like it really is a job that I can fulfil because of the experience I’ve been building, in the UEFA Youth League, going away with England and getting an Under-23s match. Hopefully, I can share my experiences with them [the first-years].”
How do you look back on last season? Have you achieved more than you thought you could have done this time last year?
“Yes, because last year was a great season for me because you come into it from the Under-16s thinking ‘let’s try to get around the middle of the pack’. As the months go on and you train more and more, you get to know what you’re about and you start feeling the confidence kick in and that’s when you start training harder and working harder. In the matches, you’re cruising past players and you’re thinking ‘I want more’ and you start becoming hungrier. This year, just from pre-season, I’m feeling really hungry. I really want to be getting as far as I can get with Manchester United, which is, ultimately, the first team, so I’m hungry for that.”
Are you feeling stronger and working in the gym?
“Of course growing is coming but Charlie [Owen, the YDP athletic development coach] is putting us through our paces in the gym, which is good because that’s the only way we can improve. We have to test our strength and power - that’s how we get to become grown men, I guess.”
The full-back/wing-back role you occupy is such a demanding role too. You need that stamina, don’t you?
“Yes, it’s very, very useful because you have to go forward and back. Even if you’ve gone forward and you have a man behind you, he’s on your side so he’s your man and you have to sprint back as quickly as you can to keep up with him. It’s a job that I like doing because you get the best of both worlds really – defending and attacking.”
Is the experience of playing in the middle as well helping you defensively?
“Completely, because you get to see the game in different ways because at full-back you are out on the touchline and you get to see pretty much half of the game, whereas at centre-back, you see everything with your peripheral vision as such, so you get to scan the game and feel what centre-backs are feeling. But you also know what full-backs are feeling because they are running up and down. It’s good to get a feel of what other players are feeling and it’s a good experience.”
In terms of your journey at United, how old were you when you signed and what’s it been like playing for the club?
“I started when I was nine years old, I think. It was tough when I was nine because I wasn’t a technical player – I was just a quick and strong lad who lost the ball most of the time! (laughs) but then I remember I went for a trial. Normally you’re supposed to go on a trial for six weeks, mine was like a two-month trial as they were really uncertain about me because I had the good traits – as in I was powerful and I loved getting into a tackle – but I also had the not-so-good traits, which were like decision-making, running into players and daft things like that. Then, Eamonn Mulvey [head coach at the foundation stage] pulled me to one side – he’s the one who gave me my first contract. I was ecstatic and buzzing. I remember the day because my dad said I wasn’t getting through, he tried to play a little prank on me and I started crying. Because I was young, I started crying and I was proper upset. My dad then said ‘I'm joking, you’ve made it to Carrington’ because obviously Carrington is a big step up from The Cliff. I was just ecstatic and amazed.
"From then, I’ve always been near the bottom of the pack. From around Under-12s, that’s when I started to think ‘I need to start doing something’. There’s no point being at the bottom of the pack because you’re not going to get anything out of it. You have to be at United to improve and have a goal, which is to play in the first team. At that time, I was just cruising and I was thinking to myself: ‘What can I do to make myself a better player?’ and, in the Under-12s, that’s when I started using my running power and the skillset I had, as well as working on things I didn’t have, for example, my technical attributes which weren’t that good at the time. I started working on it and working on it and then, when it came to the Under-15s, I really started to get hold of the game and it started to properly come in the Under-16s because I felt the penny was starting to drop then. I was playing at left-back then, I think, and of course it’s not really my role because I’m a right-back as I’m right-footed. But using my left foot was a great challenge and it’s helping me now, to be honest, because now I'm trusted to play right-back or left-back, which is a great thing.”
What are your main ambitions?
“To be honest, my main aim is to play for the first team because that would just be a dream come true. I know it’s a clichéd thing to say but it really is, just from a young age, being at The Cliff seeing all the pictures on the wall and then going to Carrington and seeing Giggsy on the wall and the first-team players walking out of the canteen. You just think ‘I want to be there’. I want to be playing with them and scoring goals with them and making assists. Being part of the team one day would just give me a great feeling.”
You’re a real asset going forward and you scored against Liverpool last season…
“That was a great feeling. It was my first goal of the season in the Under-18 Premier League, I’d scored a few in friendlies but it’s great to score in the league.”
Finally, you’ve had that upbringing at United. Was there a point on that road where you said to yourself that you’re not going to give up on this chance and go for it?
“Yes, of course, because as you grow up, you start realising how close you actually are to getting to where you want to be. That’s when it starts kicking in and you’re thinking: ‘If I want to be the best full-back at Manchester United, what do I have to do?’ You look at your role models, for example Antonio Valencia is a big one for me because of his strength and power, he plays in my position, he’s just great at defending. He knows how to attack, has good positioning and you never really see anyone get past him. That’s what I’m looking to have as my attributes as well, so you see the likes of Antonio Valencia ahead of you and you just think ‘I want to be like him’. That’s when it starts kicking in and you think ‘let’s start pushing on’.”