Ethan Laird’s goal is set for a permanent place at Manchester United, the club where he grew up.
But the short-term goal is to thrive in Swansea City, where the wing-back with the big smile has made a significant impression.
“I know Swansea is a step that will put me in the right direction,” Laird said.
Laird came to United when he was only nine. He was 18 when he made his senior debut for the club in a Europa League match against Astana in 2019.
There was another Europa League appearance, against AZ Alkmaar, a few weeks later, but Laird is still inexperienced at the senior level.
He played 25 games for Russell Martin’s MK Dons after joining the League One club on loan in January 2021.
When Martin swapped Milton Keynes for Swansea in August, one of his first moves was to secure Laird on a season-long loan.
Laird has quickly established himself as a key figure in Martin’s progressive Swansea squad, a defender who attacks with the edge and pace of an winger.
He is popular with Swansea fans, after dampening the blow that was the sale of Connor Roberts to Burnley, while his flare-up makes him a bright light in the locker room.
“I love it,” Laird says. “I’m a happy guy. I’m a little privileged – my job is my hobby, so I really need to smile.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjær was the man who gave Laird his first team chance at United.
Still, any hope of impressing the United boss after his stay at MK Dons was ruined by an injury taken in last season’s match, which meant most of last summer was spent on rehab.
When Laird returned to fitness shortly before the start of the season, another loan move was on the agenda.
“Darren Fletcher (United’s technical director) spoke to me. I spoke with the coaching staff and with Ole as well,” explains Laird.
“They just said listen, it’s been unfortunate because you did not have a chance to show what you can because of the injury, but now you have the chance to do it on the main stage. [at Swansea].
“I know they’re keeping an eye on me, which’s nice.”
There are lots of stories of young players going out on loan and not hearing from their parent clubs while they are away.
That’s not the case with Laird.
“We have two loan administrators who watch our matches every week and contact us at least twice during the week, analyze our games, tell us what we can do better, what we can do well, what we should look forward to in it. next match. “says Laird.
“Then the first team staff will give you a message every now and then where they say ‘well done’ or ‘good luck with this match I want to see’.
“United understand how important communication is. You will not feel like they have forgotten you.”
A member of United’s staff, Danny Keough, has seen Swansea train this season, and saw Laird help Martin’s team to a clean sheet in their draw with Hull.
Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Anthony Martial were among the established stars Laird played with during his brief taste in the Europa League.
During training, he has meanwhile shared a pitch with all of United’s star names.
“You play with people who have won World Cups and Champions Leagues,” he says. “You try to suck as much as possible.”
Laird may be playing with a different class of players in Swansea, but that does not mean there is nothing to learn.
After making progress during his time at MK Dons, Laird has started up again during a third of a season in the Championship.
“Me and Russ, the whole staff, have a great relationship,” Laird says.
“They made it a lot easier for me [at MK Dons] and saw my potential. I believe in being here, they can unleash more of my potential. “
Laird has been in every league game since joining Swansea, a race that should continue when they take on Coventry City on Tuesday.
Coventry have been one of the championship’s most impressive teams this season, yet the Swans travel with confidence after winning three of their last four games.
Martin’s crew lacks depth in areas, but his team begins to flourish and play his possession-based games.
“With this style of play, it may take a couple of months to get a grip, but he’s doing brilliantly now,” said Laird.
“I know the fans love it, but it’s just the beginning, which’s what’s amazing.”
Swansea, who were beaten by Brentford in the May play-off final of the Championship, are only number 13 in the table ahead of the Coventry trip.
But this is a changing club, and a return of 13 points from their last seven games – compared to seven from Martin’s first eight league games – suggests they are on an upward curve.
The same can be said about Laird, who hopes a period in Wales will serve him well when he returns to Old Trafford.
“As a young kid, I always wanted to play for Manchester United,” he said.
“But you have to realize that there are steps to take. Every person’s journey is different, and there are things you have to do to get to where you want to be.”