FOOTBALL mad youngster, Ryan Slattery will step out onto Old Trafford in front of 75,000 supporters and millions of television viewers worldwide on Saturday afternoon with one of Manchester United’s star players wearing HIS surname on the back of their jersey.
The lucky nine year-old, whose mother Nicola (née Phelan) hails from Foyle Springs in Derry, has been selected as one of 11 youngsters to trod on the famous turf at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ with their heroes prior to the lunchtime kick-off against Leicester City.
Ryan, who resides in Dubai with his family, is one of two representatives from the UAE who won United sponsors, Chevrolet’s global contest in search of a mascot and he was flown over to Manchester on Tuesday with his father, Ronan, for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Not only will he grace one of the most famous venues in the world and rub shoulders with the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but during his amazing six day trip he met with Manchester United players and legends; attended the Man United Soccer School and toured the club’s stadium.
It’s already been a whirlwind experience for Ryan since becoming the UAE’s first ever winner of the competition as he’s been the star of a short film made by an LA production company as part of Chevrolet’s ‘Beautiful Possibilities Programme’ which shows him playing football on the streets of Dubai with his friends.
Staying at Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville’s Hotel Football on Sir Matt Busby Way, Ryan and dad Ronan met with Jose Mourinho and trained with the first team squad at the AON Training Complex at Carrington today ahead of Saturday’s crunch Premiership clash against the reigning champions.
However, the highlight of his experience will, no doubt, be walking hand-in-hand onto the hallowed turf with one of the United stars and Ryan’s hoping £80 million record signing Pogba is his designated player.
After winning his spot on the Chevrolet starting XI following six rounds of interviews, Ryan, like the other representatives from USA, China, Colombia, South Korea and Mexico, was asked which player he would like to wear his name on their shirt.
And Ryan, who was fully aware of United’s interest in signing Pogba over the summer, took a punt by writing down the French international’s name in the hope that he would make a dramatic return to the club. A smart move for a nine year-old and he’s hoping it pays off!
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Ibrahimovic are also top of his wishlist. But whoever he walks out with, the memories of a special week will live with him forever.
I was sad when I left Istanbul because I had to leave my friends. Wherever I go I think I’ll always be able to make friends by playing football.Ryan Slattery
Ryan’s father, being a die-hard United fan is probably more excited than his son about the trip and he’s hoping the VIP Matchday experience will be enough to turn his Barcelona loving son into a true Red Devil.
“I’ve been a United fan since I was 12 or 13 and I’m trying to convert him from Barcelona and this is the clincher I reckon,” said Ronan. “I’m pinching myself as well.”
So how did the lucky youngster find himself winning such a wonderful prize? Well Ryan’s story is a heart-warming one.
Born in Dublin, Ryan grew up in Istanbul where his father worked and his younger brother Aaron (3) was born. His father’s job with Microsoft meant he travelled often and so Ryan found it difficult to fit in and make friends as he moved from school to school.
Almost three years ago, the Slattery family, including Ryan’s little sister Sophia (7), were on the move once again as they relocated to Dubai where they are currently residing. It was another major upheaval in the life of the youngster who was just six years old at the time.
“We moved around a lot, from Dublin to Istanbul to Dubai. It’s hard to move around but it’s easy to make new friends by playing football,” said Ryan.
“I was sad when I left Istanbul because I had to leave my friends. Wherever I go I think I’ll always be able to make friends by playing football.”
Worried about the impact the travelling had and concerned his son would struggle to make friends and adapt to his new life, Ronan was delighted when Ryan developed an interest in the game.
Ryan, who returns to Derry with his family most summers to visit his grandparents, Ann and Jim Phelan, has lived in many places all over the world. But no matter where he goes, he’s been able to make new friends through a shared love of soccer. Indeed, the sport has brought him happiness, friends and has allowed him to integrate into the local community. He plays football on the street with his pals and is grateful to have the opportunity to play the game he loves.
The reason Chevrolet chose Ryan to be a part of their programme was because he ‘embodies the spirit of play’.
And so moments before Saturday’s match kicks-off: “In a show of admiration and in line with football tradition, Man United players will remove their shirts and present them to the mascots in an attempt to show the children, their families and millions of Man United followers around the world how football and play can change lives and create beautiful possibilities,” explains the Chevrolet Marketing team.
“Football has helped him make friends and gave him confidence,” added Ronan. “Chevrolet felt that Ryan’s story was a great example of how football can help kids from different parts of the world and from different cultures and backgrounds become friends, build their confidence and help them settle in their new life in a new country.”
You can watch Ryan’s Chevrolet Mascot 2016 video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PajqcmhHfP4