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“Intense internal deliberation” Manchester United called it in something of a holding statement. Mason Greenwoodthe future of is the subject of little more than that; it is a situation with far-reaching and potentially colossal implications, on and off the pitch. It will affect, and probably damage, United’s reputation. This will likely give their various sponsors the question of whether they should end their relationship with the club. This could certainly cause a backlash against entirely flawless players on their women’s team.
At some point an announcement will come if Greenwood’s contract is terminated or if he will play for United again. The club said the ‘fact of the investigation’ the stage of their investigation into his conduct is over and that General Manager Richard Arnold will make the final decision; and yet the belief is that the decision is made and that Greenwood will remain.
It is a moral, commercial and footballing problem: even perhaps the biggest club in the world seemed ill-equipped to deal with a problem of its scale and sensitivity.
The bare facts are that in January 2022, an ominous sound emerged from a voice, believed to be Greenwood’s, as a man attempted to impose himself on a woman. Greenwood was subsequently arrested and later charged with attempted rape, assault causing actual bodily harm, and controlling and coercive behavior. The charges were dropped in February 2023 by the Crown Prosecution Service when new evidence emerged and key witnesses withdrew their involvement. United then opened its internal investigation. Since then, Greenwood has remained suspended by the club, unable to play or train.
United can say a six-month investigation is a sign of its depth: they say they have spoken to many people and reviewed evidence that is not in the public domain. However, concluding the investigation still risked being a problematic part: it might have been easier if it had been done in June, off season.
Instead, it was mishandled. United had communicated privately that they would reveal their decision before the start of their campaign. It kept getting postponed: originally scheduled for August 4, it was later said that it wouldn’t be done on Wednesday or last Thursday, then not Friday either.
But part of the process was that United had to communicate with what they called key stakeholders: they include sponsors and commercial partners, fan groups and their women’s team. And the fact that some of the players are in Australia, trying to win the World Cup, seems to have overtaken United and led to suggestions the decision was in their hands and then, sadly, to the inevitable social media abuse.
With the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday and the prospect of the players having time off before returning to United, that means an announcement may not happen until September.
But, with each step, it seems more and more likely that they will try to find a way to explain that Greenwood will return to the club. There’s no doubt keeping Greenwood would cause outrage, and not just outside of Old Trafford; some of the staff would certainly be unhappy and it would be completely understandable if the members of the women’s team would be too (the fact that United only formed a women’s team in 2018 showed less commitment than many of their rivals).
Eight members of the men’s team have joined since Greenwood’s last game, but he’s not believed to have been universally popular in the locker room when involved.
In the meantime, there are other aspects to consider. The alleged victim cannot be named for legal reasons; his anonymity is important, even if it also means that the image visible to the rest of the world is incomplete.
United have yet to release the findings of their investigation. One conclusion, in particular, should be essential in a society where there should be some leeway for the rehabilitation of the repentant: is Greenwood sorry or just sorry for being caught?
Both he and United can claim he has not been found guilty of any criminal offence, although that does not automatically make him an innocent man. They can say that he suffered a punishment by already losing 18 months of a relatively short career.
They would probably be right if they concluded that virtually any other club would keep Greenwood; As unpleasant as that suggestion is, it is a reality of football. Even a club of United’s wealth – with an annual turnover of around £600m and having spent around £170m on signings this summer – would be reluctant to let go of a footballer with the talent to claim. £100 million.
Their owners, the Glazer family, have rarely seemed aligned with what fans desire. Manager, Erik ten Hag, has a side that scored too few league goals last season. Meanwhile Greenwood, still just 21, is United’s youngest goalscorer in Europe; only Norman Whiteside and George Best scored more for United as teenagers.
Does any of this matter? Many would say no. In an assessment of his character, that is certainly not the case. But there is a double standard in football. If a steward, kitman or press officer had behaved as Greenwood did, it would be a simple decision to fire them for gross misconduct. But footballers are treated differently and United are wondering how to justify that.