By Tom Dean
If that headline makes sense to you, you spend too much time on the internet; naughty naughty! If it doesn’t, please bear with me as I elaborate.
Manchester United and Wales midfielder Hayley Ladd has been one of the standout performers in the WSL this season to the extent that a spot in the Team GB squad was by no means out of the question.
That would put her in the same bracket as the likes of Jordan Nobbs, Jill Scott and Keira Walsh who were all shoe-ins to head to Tokyo before football as we know it came to an abrupt halt.
Similarly to the aforementioned England stars, the 26-year-old has been on the scene for quite a while now playing in Bristol, Birmingham and now Manchester but has remarkably taken her football as far as Finland.
A product of the Arsenal centre of excellence, the midfielder-stroke-defender was playing in the Wales national team by the age of 16 – then managed by Finnish coach Jarmo Matikainen.
And when the reserves season ended in 2012, Matikainen needed extra game time for his star player.
Wales had two European Championship qualifiers remaining and so it was arranged that the teenager would pack her suitcase to join Kokkola Futis 10 for the remainder of their season.
“Yeah it’s definitely a bit of a random feature of my pathway but after we finished the season in the Arsenal reserves, Wales had a few important qualifiers left and my coach was Finnish,” said Ladd.
“Jarmo had some good links at Finnish club level and they were still playing their season over the summer so he sent me off to a random place so that I could train throughout the summer.
“But the prospect of travelling and keeping in better in physical condition for the national team was attractive to me and I was fortunate to benefit from that.
“I was thrown into a completely different culture and the language is so ridiculously hard to learn, I only knew a few to use in training but I got away without having to learn much because there’s a lot of English spoken out there.
“The team did fairly well, I think we overachieved because we had the best player in the country, Emmi Alanen, and a great coach who had spent time with the national team there.
“When I look back on it now I think of it as a wonderful experience that suited my needs at the time but the league wasn’t really going in the right direction so it wasn’t somewhere I could stay.
“I always knew I wanted to come back to England, go to university and forge a career here.”
And that is exactly what she did as she juggled her three-year human biology course at Loughborough University with playing for Coventry City.
Graduation and some help from Welsh teammates brought about a move to Bristol City in 2015 where Ladd spent another three seasons honing her skills before Birmingham City came calling.
By this time Ladd had missed out on qualification for four major tournaments with the national team and would go on to miss last year’s World Cup too but still has a chance to take her nation to the next European Championships.
Two seasons in the top-flight with Birmingham City was enough to convince Casey Stoney and Manchester United they needed Ladd in their ranks for the Red Devils’ debut WSL season.
Somehow still only 25 at the time, Ladd signed on the dotted line last summer and has gone on to become a midfield lynchpin for a team that sat fourth when the league was postponed.
“Casey outlined the ambition of the club and the standards but there was also a realism that the squad was untested at the top level and that it was going to be a building project,” said Ladd.
“I couldn’t have asked for more since I joined really, playing some good football, got great young players and it’s a joy to play with them at the moment.
“Leah Galton is absolute tank and a brilliant athlete – I’ve never played with anyone like her and Lauren James is very naturally gifted too and of course we have our captain Katie Zelem who’s very headstrong.
“I keep my head down most of the time and try to work as hard as I can but a lot of what I do and a lot of what drives me is to help Wales qualify for a major international competition.
“The Welsh girls are a really strong group and have known each other for a long time so we all share the same ambition and belief.”
With uncertainty around the future of this season and beyond still swirling, Ladd has made good use of her time in lockdown by making plans for life after football.
Manchester United have provided their players with online courses to help keep them busy while they’re not training and Ladd has used the opportunity for a completely new vocation – sensible as well as talented – some people have all the luck eh?
“I randomly chose a financial trading one – I had no prior insight or knowledge but I thought it would be nice to learn about something new.
“It’s pretty meaty but I’ve kept it up and a few of the other players are on it too but I’m motivated to use this time to try and enrich other aspects of my life.
“It’s such a nice segway away from football and might even help with life after football too if I go into business.
“I do think about planning for after football and if I was a few years younger I probably would’ve just bought a playstation but here we are.”
…Oh right yeah sorry the Finnish joke, here you go:
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