The reasons behind Ethan Laird‘s Bournemouth struggles

40 minutes.

That’s the amount of time on the pitch that Ethan Laird has played since his loan move to Scott Parker’s Bournemouth in the January transfer window.

The talented Manchester United youngster was pried away from Swansea City mid-season after impressing for Russell Martin’s side in the first half of the campaign.

He started 18 of a possible 20 Championship fixtures for The Swans. It was a huge blow to the side when they found out that he’d be swapping Swansea for Bournemouth towards the end of January.

The idea for the loan swap would’ve been to give the wing-back a role in a back four set up rather than the less defensive one he had in Swansea’s back three formation. It also would offer the opportunity to continue with the club if they are promoted to the Premier League and, in turn, get some valuable top flight experience under his belt.

There was a large level of excitement amongst supporters of the south coast outfit. They were aware of an impressive youngster in the division and snatched at the chance to bring him into their ranks for the rest of the season.

“I think the expectation was really, really high [when the club signed Laird]. I think they [supporters] were really excited about it.” Jacob Tanswell, Bournemouth reporter for Dorset Live, claimed. “We saw him at Swansea – I remember him coming to the Vitality in November and he was fantastic against Bournemouth in that right-wing back role.

“In terms of Bournemouth getting him, I think it was because the opportunity was there. They were wiling to pay a higher proportion of his wages, there was scope for him to stay beyond this season provided Bournemouth went to the Premier League and I think they just got him because they could, and the opportunity was there.” He added.

Despite the enthused reaction from Bournemouth and United fans alike, Laird has been unable to break into the side which currently occupies second place in the Championship.

It was an injury that initially kept him out once he made the move, but since then Parker has said that the full-back needs to improve in order to grasp a position in the matchday squads, let alone the starting line-up.

“What I understand is that more of it has come from training really.” Tanswell told UtdDistrict when quizzed on the reasons behind Laird’s absence from recent squads. “He’s been impressive in training, but it’s just been his physical levels, his fitness levels are not up to scratch.

“From what you hear, his technical levels have never been questioned, it’s more his fitness, perhaps his mentality and hamstring issues as he’s had issues with them in recent years.”

It did not help that Bournemouth were unaware of the extent of Laird’s thigh injury that he sustained for Swansea in a 4-1 loss to Nottingham Forest.

“Bournemouth thought that he’d be further along in his progress, but when he came they were like ‘oh okay, he’s going to be more than a week, he’s going to be three, four or five weeks’ and everything just got pushed back.” Tanswell revealed.

While the United full-back had a difficult beginning to life at the Championship club, it seemed like a chance was gifted to him earlier this month when Adam Smith was sent off against Preston North End and ended up receiving a three match ban.

Yet, Parker looked to Jack Stacey, who has played most of the season for The Cherries, as the replacement for the veteran full-back. It seems to be a cautious approach from the young English manager in regards to his selections at the business end of the season.

“Especially at this part of the season where it’s so important for Bournemouth, they probably want that trusted Adam Smith, they know what he’s going to do. Jack Stacey is consistent, he’s not great going forward or going back, he’s just pretty steady and reliable.” Tanswell said. “Whereas, Ethan Laird, a 20-year-old kid, playing against these rough and rugged Championship wingers and strikers, that could be an issue.”

This is a decision that has not only puzzled United fans, who were thrilled at the right-back’s development while under Russell Martin, but also the Bournemouth supporters, who want to see the young talent that they were watching in the earlier stages of the season for another outfit.

“They [Bournemouth fans] seen him in the flesh at Swansea, they know how exciting he was and Adam Smith was suspended for three games before the Huddersfield game, so really it should’ve been Laird’s time to come in and him to not be in the squad provoked a lot of anger and the connection between Parker and the fans became a little bit wider and a little bit less warm than it usually is.” Tanswell explained.

It’s a difficult line for the man in charge at the Vitality Stadium, with the intense pressure to ensure automatic promotion from the league after a dip in form in the months prior to Laird’s signing. With only a handful of games remaining, Tanswell doubts that the loanee will have many chances to prove his worth before the end of the season.

“Right now, it doesn’t look great to be honest, from what you hear from the club,” He said in regard to Laird’s chances of pushing for a spot in the team before the end of the season. “Adam Smith was injured for three months and as soon as he’s fit, he was straight back into the starting line-up. He’s one of Parker’s key men. He [Laird] might get the odd 20 or 30 minutes off the bench if they’re 1-0 down like against Stoke, but he’s actually got to get in the squad first.”

With two games in hand on their nearest rivals, and a six point cushion, it’s more than likely that Bournemouth will reinstate themselves as a Premier League club next season. However, while it seemed that the plan would be to send Laird back to Parker’s side for the 2022/23 campaign, the chances of that happening now seem to be a lot slimmer than before.

“I think it’ll be parked until the end of the season,” Tanswell said when asked about the situation. “There were talks, but if you’re a loan manager at Man United or even Ethan Laird himself, who was enjoying his football at Swansea and had some family there, and he gets told to go to Bournemouth and not even get in the squad, does he realistically want to be there next year?

“I don’t think he’ll want to stick around too long if it stays this way.”

After being one of the most exciting youngsters in England’s second tier in the first half of the season, Laird has struggled in recent months. With his development the most important aspect, it’s difficult to see him returning to the southern outfit next year, and instead United will need to look elsewhere, or perhaps keep him in the ranks at Old Trafford to develop in-house under new management.

A bubbly and enthusiastic character who has all the skills to be a top right-back, Laird should not let this period get in the way of his aim to challenge at United in the coming years.

Unfortunately, though, it has been a failure of a loan for the 20-year-old so far, and it all but seems a wasted move for United’s most promising academy defender.

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