Words by Ben Summer, interview by Alex Bullamore, Micah Chudleigh, Dan Lambert and Ben Summer
Ethan Laird is the definition of the phrase “infectious personality.” Throughout his interview on the ‘R’ Generation on Air podcast, he rarely went more than a minute without breaking into laughter.
He’s been a refreshing presence in a position Rangers have struggled with for the past few seasons, looking lively in attack and generally composed in defence. It’s early doors, but this is starting to feel like another loan player we could struggle not to fall in love with.
And his carefree style of play is reflected in his attitude off the pitch. When asked whether it’s been difficult to adapt to Mick Beale’s footballing system, Laird said: “It’s been very easy, I’m not gonna lie. One of the gaffer’s main things was to play with freedom, play the way you play.
“After a day of training he popped me straight in the team because he knew what he wanted from me, and all I had to do was play. As the games have gone on my role hasn’t changed but I’ve had a lot more stuff to do.
“For example the opposition might be playing with wing-backs and it’s about adapting to that. It’s been easy to fit in. The lads, the way they play, it helps me as well.”
For more from QPR’s right-back on the new training ground, the squad’s potential and why the loan move was vital for his career, listen to the podcast here or on your chosen platform:
We probed on this, asking whether Beale gives his full-backs any specific instructions – especially when, to the untrained eye, it seems like Paal is more defensive along the left and Laird is more attacking on the right.
He said the manager didn’t necessarily give specific instructions, because he loves his full-backs to have freedom. Laird continued: “He believes that it’s a really important role, not only on the ball but off the ball because we might make a decoy run that allows our magical 10s to get in on the ball and score wonder goals.
“He’s very wary of how much we do, but we’re very enthusiastic full-backs both sides. As the game goes on if we’re in a two-nil or three-nil lead, he’ll tell us to calm down because we’ve got another game in the week! [LAUGHS]”
Laird reiterated that the manager is”top.” He said: “I can’t fault him one bit because he understands the player. He understands that everyone’s different and that it’s his job to mould that team so everyone can work to the best of their ability, even though everyone’s different.
“I also believe that – everyone has their qualities, everyone has their weaknesses but together you can do anything. He likes to work with individuals first, then he’ll get into units, then into his team.
“Within that, you find a lot of chemistry. We call it teams within teams; for example your right-back and your right winger, your centre-back and your midfielder, stuff like that.”
“I’m far from the perfect player”
Playing with freedom doesn’t mean Laird’s ignorant to what he has to improve on, though. He said: “I’m far from the perfect player. So far away. I’m striving for that because I genuinely believe I can be one of the best and I’m gonna hold that until I get there.”
Few QPR fans would disagree that Laird’s ceiling is extremely high, but he’s trying to keep himself grounded and ignore the idea of competition. If his career takes him to the England national team, there’ll be more competition in his position than in any other.
We asked whether this plays on his mind, and he replied: “I don’t think about it at all to be honest because as long as I focus on my game it’ll bring me where I need to be. Being at a big club there’s always been talks, more outer than inner, about competition, especially when you’re younger.
“I’ve never felt the pressure, to be honest. I know where I want to be, and what I need to do to get where I want to be.”
“It can be hard for players to deal with it because you’re being compared to someone and you almost think: ‘Oh, I need to do this to be better than them.’
“You’ve got to back yourself the whole way”
“But really and truly, if you just keep doing what got you there in the first place, you’re gonna be able to shine better than them, you know what I mean? You’ve got to back yourself the whole way and that’s something I believe in completely. So I just focus on myself, and see where it takes me.”
Laird is only 21 and on the books of one of the world’s biggest clubs (plus, he’s also technically owned by Manchester United).
You often hear a lot about what the experienced heads in the changing room can offer to a young player, and Laird has one specific example in mind.
“Leon Balogun has been a great addition for us,” he said. “His experience has been unmatched, as you know.”
Balogun is what Laird describes as a “vocal leader” – some leaders lead purely by example but others speak up and lead with their voices, too.
Laird explained: “When you’re playing the game and just running up and down all the time, sometimes you can have a lapse of concentration because you’re tired. It’s always helpful when you just hear a voice. Even if he’s talking rubbish, you hear a voice.
“That can snap you straight back in and that’s one of the biggest things for me. I feel like I can do a lot of things but there are some times in the game where it’s crucial and you just need that voice to keep you in the game and be like: ‘Oh yeah, we’re back, I know where I need to be.’ Leon’s been absolutely amazing for that.”
As for the other characters in the squad, even a mention of Albert Adomah’s personality sends Laird into a borderline laughing fit. “We all know Uncs and what he brings,” he said – and that’s all we got from him on the matter.
It wouldn’t be a footballer interview without a silly question to finish it off. We asked Ethan Laird whether he was the quickest player in the QPR squad, and his answer was pretty clear.
“No doubt,” he replied. “Yeah, that’s never been a… [LAUGHS] that’s something we don’t need to talk about. I think everyone will know it, as well. It’s not something that has to be talked about, because everyone knows, you know. [LAUGHS]”
We asked whether anyone came close – the response: “Nah.”
What about Tyler Roberts? “I wouldn’t say quick like me!”
The responses are all a bit playful and tongue-in-cheek, though – Laird clarifies: “Nah, [Roberts] is quick…Obviously we have a lot of players who are crazy sharp and within five or 10 metres they’ll just… whoosh, and you’re thinking: ‘What’s just happened?’
“It’s football so that’s the most important for their jobs, isn’t it – being able to score a goal quickly and weave through a few men.
“If we’re talking top speed, there’s no-one that compares. [LAUGHS].”
For the sake of avoiding a stink over these replies, and for anyone who doesn’t listen to the podcast – Laird was giggling throughout this whole exchange.
This isn’t a player who wants to put his teammates down, but a player who backs himself and seems comfortable in his own skin. With a mix of ability, confidence and humility, it’s hard to avoid lumping endless praise on him.
But with the way he’s going, it’s pretty damn difficult not to.
If you enjoyed this interview, there’s plenty more of it on the podcast. Thanks to Ethan and the club for providing the interview, and make sure to check us out on Twitter (@rgenerationnet).