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Ryan Tunnicliffe: Too much too young?

At 2pm on Saturday 13th October, Ryan Tunnicliffe, 19, crashed his Range Rover into a parked Transit van. He was subsequently charged with “driving with excess alcohol.” This we all know.

Besides the obvious – that he was drink driving and crashed his car – two elements of this story struck me.

The first, international week or not, was what on earth is a professional football player – for Manchester United no less – doing drinking (possibly drunk) at 2 o’clock in the afternoon?

In my mind, it raises questions about a person’s character (personality, behaviour, attitude – call it what you will) to have been drinking heavily at that hour. He’s not on a lads holiday in Zante, or his Christmas holidays with family, but simply a rare Saturday when he doesn’t have a game or training. He’s a professional sportsman. Was he really that desperate to get a few beers inside him?

I don’t know Ryan Tunnicliffe personally; none of us do. Plenty of people will tell you he’s a nice lad, and that this was out of character, but we don’t really know. Unfortunately for Ryan, most United fans will only know about him what they read. He could do a lot worse right now than taking to his infrequently-used Twitter account to explain that he made a stupid mistake, it won’t happen again, and he’s off to get his head down and focus. It’s what I’d do.

I’m going to throw a little quote at you now. This was Rene Meulensteen discussing using one’s talent to make it as a Manchester United player: “Don’t waste it. Learn. Train hard, work hard. Take responsibility.”

That last part, I think, applies right across the board for a professional football player at Manchester United. Ryan may only be nineteen, but he can’t and won’t be watched by members of the backroom staff 24/7. When he’s out with his friends, doing whatever it is he does in his spare time, he must learn that being a Manchester United player means he’s in the public eye. Stories like this will come out if you let them. And by let them, I mean by doing silly things which grab journalists’ attentions. We all know most journalists are like dogs, and will go chasing a bone if you dangle one. Don’t dangle anything. It’s something he will, I hope, learn. It’s also something I hope some of the senior players will remind him in training this week.

The second attention-grabbing part of this story is the astonishing fact that a nineteen-year-old boy, with only thirteen Manchester United first team minutes under his belt, was driving a £60,000 car.

Sixty thousand. Six, zero, thousand.

I suspect many of United’s 57-trillion-strong global following don’t even know who Ryan Tunnicliffe is, yet he’s driving around in a car worth more than they make in a year. Probably two years. It’s ludicrous.

Before we discuss wages: it’s not the player’s fault. Of course it’s not. If any of us were offered thousands of pounds a week to play football, regardless of our age, we would do it. Let’s not pretend we wouldn’t.

What it is is a reminder of the world football players live in. Far removed from ours. In a galaxy far, far away, where teenagers can afford £60,000 cars while the rest of us still get excited when his own father wins a bet for a similar amount. Most of us will never know what it’s like to earn that much money, so it’s hard for us to be too judgemental. Would we buy a car like that? Perhaps. Would we have struggled to spend wisely if that rich at nineteen? I expect so.

It’s not enough to say that they – the young players suddenly earning more than their parents did in their entire lives – need guidance. Guidance from whom, the senior players living in the same other-world they do? Anyone who watched Rio’s Video Diary on MUTV during pre-season will surely remember him pointing out a South African chalet and advising Jesse Lingard he could “get one of these next week, Jess, eh?” Even advice from United staff members – and that includes Fergie, sadly – now carries less weight that it once did. Player power and all that. We’ve already seen a sign of this in the cases of Fryers and Pogba. Also, it’s a little hypocritical to suggest how a player should spend his money having been the one to agree to pay him such amounts in the first place.

Is there a way out of this? Of teenagers being paid millions before they’ve even made a name for themselves? I’m not sure. That’s a much larger debate for another day involving much smarter men than me.

Regardless, should Tunnicliffe continue his progress and score a goal which helps win United the league title this season (or next), this will all be forgotten about, won’t it? And, if he does it against City, I suspect the same United fans currently lambasting him will demand he be awarded a lucrative new contract.

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By Jack Holt

Once got told off by Steve Bruce.

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