Manchester United have looked completely toothless in front of goal so far. They escaped with a 1-0 win against Wolves during the opening weekend of the Premier League season that had more to do with luck than skill.
On Saturday, their magic ran out. United lost 2-0 against a Tottenham Hotspur team that had just lost their best goal scorer to the transfer market. Despite out-shooting Spurs 22-17, United didn’t have their finishing boots on and squandered several good scoring opportunities. Their ongoing problems in midfield (Casemiro had trouble covering so much ground on his own without help from Mason Mount) meant that one goal was probably going to be enough to condemn them to defeat.
With only the unreliable Anthony Martial and the unproven (and unfit) Rasmus Højlund in reserve, United could use a proven goalscorer and natural finisher.
That person was supposed to be Mason Greenwood — until today’s announcement that he will never play for the team again.
To recap: The young forward hasn’t played for United since January 2022, after his girlfriend posted videos on social media accusing him of beating and sexually assaulting her. Her posts included images and videos of her injuries, as well as audio of Greenwood apparently threatening her.
Within a day of her posts going live, Greenwood got suspended by United and was arrested by the Greater Manchester Police on suspicion of rape and assault. He was also dropped by his main sponsor, Nike, and removed from two major video games.
One year later, prosecutors decided not to charge him, “In this case, a combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light meant there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction,” a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said.
In most cases involving domestic violence and/or sex crimes, “withdrawal of key witnesses” means the complainant decided not to cooperate. Sure enough, several months after the charges were dropped, Greenwood and his girlfriend announced they had given birth to their first child.
Obviously, just because the charges were dropped doesn’t mean he didn’t do the things he was accused of. Additionally, the fact that she seems to have resumed her relationship with him is not evidence that Greenwood never abused or assaulted her. Statistically, both of these things happen quite a bit in these types of cases.
So perhaps with this in mind, United officials said they would conduct their own internal investigation into Greenwood’s conduct and make a decision about his status prior to the start of the 2023-24 season.
Not like the outcome was was in much doubt. The Athletic reported last week that senior officials had told team staff to expect Greenwood back and had been coaching players and employees how to respond questions about his reinstatement. Moreover, the team has been getting detailed reports of his private training sessions for a while now — not something you’d do if you intended on getting rid of or freezing out a player.
As such, United could have said, from the outset, that as long as there was nothing worse lingering under the surface, he would get another chance since he hadn’t been charged with anything. Presumed innocent and all that jazz.
There’s precedent for this approach. Jonny Evans was accused of rape in 2008 but was not charged. His United career was not affected and he recently returned to the club. Likewise, Cristiano Ronaldo faced rape accusations in 2005 and 2009 but wasn’t charged in either case. Neither of those things came close to ending or hindering his United career — at least not compared to a Piers Morgan interview.
Indeed, in today’s statement, the club claimed that “based on the evidence available to us, we have concluded that the material posted online did not provide a full picture and that Mason did not commit the offences in respect of which he was originally charged.” So, if he didn’t commit the crimes he was charged with, then there really shouldn’t have been any debate about him coming back, right?
Of course, the very next sentence says: “That said, as Mason publicly acknowledges today, he has made mistakes which he is taking responsibility for.” So what mistakes would those be? Are they related or independent of the original charges?
It’s not clear. Usually, when there’s an internal investigation like this, there will be a detailed report released going over the main findings. United have yet to reveal their evidence or methodology — as such, their statement raises more questions than answers.
In fact, the whole thing just smacks of United getting caught off-guard by the backlash they experienced from fans, pundits, media personalities, politicians, charitable organizations, DV abuse survivors and even some United employees once word leaked out that he was coming back.
Team officials tried to buy time by floating an excuse about how the investigation wasn’t over yet because they still had to talk to more people, including fans, stockholders, sponsors and Manchester United W.F.C. players — which, of course, begs the question as to what the hell they had been doing for the previous six months that they still had so many people to talk to.
While CEO Richard Arnold maintained that he would make the final decision, the inclusion of the W.F.C. players, predictably, led to Katie Zelem, Mary Earps and Ella Toone getting harassed online by the troglodyte portion of United’s fanbase who would welcome Charles Manson with open arms if he could score goals.
As such, once United made the decision that they couldn’t bring him back without causing a massive backlash, the only thing left to do was make the announcement quickly. In doing so, they made clear that it couldn’t have been the W.F.C. players who were behind it since, when the statement was released, they hadn’t arrived home yet from the Women’s World Cup in Australia.
But let’s be honest, the timing of this announcement was more about ensuring there’s enough time to sell him in the transfer window. That and making sure the stock price doesn’t tank — The Glazers need it to be as high as possible if they really intend to sell the club.
Greenwood should have no shortage of suitors — teams in Italy and Spain and, of course, Saudi Arabia (who are buying everyone, it seems) have already been linked to him. He’ll get his second chance somewhere because, let’s face it, when you’re as gifted as he is (Ole Gunnar Solskjær said Greenwood was the best and most natural finisher at the club, and Ole would know a thing or two about that), you don’t just get a second chance– you get third, fourth and even fifth chances.
Let’s hope this experience will force him to become a better person, but I’m not holding my breath. If anything, he’ll probably think that, as long as he can score goals, then he can do whatever he wants and there won’t be any real consequences.
Whether there will be any consequences for Arnold and his weak leadership on this issue remains to be seen. Gary Neville summed it up best when he said on Sky Sports Monday Night Football this week: “It was clear from day one that he wouldn’t play for Manchester United again. The process in getting there has been pretty horrible. When you have significant situations, and difficult situations like this, it requires strong authoritative leadership. And that comes from the very top. Manchester United don’t have that.”