Make no mistake, Manchester United wanted to bring Mason Greenwood back. They wanted to follow the cynical path of pretty much every other sporting entity in the world, the calculation that fans will eventually forget what a player has been credibly accused of or has done as long as the totals on the field cancel them out. Except United didn’t count on two factors. One being the unusually blatant evidence of what Greenwood had been accused of. Two, how their own bumbling handling of it would only enrage fans further and make it untenable to have Greenwood at the club.
Let’s rewind. In January 2022, Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape after his partner released audio recordings and pictures of Greenwood attacking her. The images and recordings were graphic, and United immediately suspended Greenwood until the conclusion of the case. He was eventually charged — and denied the allegations — but those were dropped last February due to the withdrawal of key witnesses. That didn’t stop United from launching their own investigation, which they did.
At the conclusion of this investigation, it was reported by The Athletic that United began sounding out various people and sponsors, mostly sponsors, about bringing Greenwood back to the club. Sponsors getting a voice on this sort of thing is quite clearly ridiculous, but also a pretty clear display of what really drives the direction of any team or club. United first wanted to know how and if this would fuck up their money, and same goes for those sponsors.
Perhaps the most galling aspect of United’s plan to grease Greenwood’s return was to sound out various members of the women’s team, how they would feel about it, and most likely could they get them to publicly give their blessing to give the club cover. It’s hard to describe how appalling this idea was, as it’s certainly not any woman’s job to rehab an accused rapist’s image nor the club that is trying to feel safe in continuing to harbor him. No one on the women’s team had anything to do with this in the first place, and being asked to sanction the club’s ham-handed methods to simply stuff all this into the closet was distasteful, to say the least.
United continued to drip-feed whispers and rumors that they would bring Greenwood back, a modern finger in the wind, and continued to hear the outrage that accompanied such an idea. It seems the backlash actually worked, as it was announced this week that the club will not be bringing him back. They are not firing him, mostly because since the charges were dropped they can’t, but he won’t play for United again. Will he end up somewhere else? Probably, though likely somewhere outside England given that he won’t be able to duck what everyone knows about him now there.
Bringing back Greenwood should have never been an option, no matter how his criminal case went. Everyone saw and heard what went out online, and the reasons sexual assault cases barely ever make it to trial, much less conviction, are myriad and well-known and rarely have much to do with innocence. United very much wanted to bring him back, with The Athletic reporting that in the first week of August club chairman Richard Arnold was already briefing other execs that he was coming back.
Only through their own calamitous process did they get found out, and maybe that was the plan all along. All the leaks that they quickly denied were a barometer for them, and the voices were simply too loud for them to continue along the path. However, the sounding out of the women’s team, whose leading members like Mary Earps, Ella Toone, and Katie Zelem had bigger fish to fry in Australia for the World Cup. Attempting to use their women’s team as cover wasn’t a finger in the wind, it was their desperate ploy to somehow make it seem ok. To shrink from all that they’d brought on themselves by pointing at someone else and making it their responsibility.
But, at least for once, United couldn’t escape that responsibility, and got to the right point, even if it doesn’t feel like it. All that took was to act in the most buffoonish way possible, try to use other women as a shield, and be completely drowned in angry backlash that also for once outweighed the Neanderthals who just wanted to care about soccer and try to dismiss violence against women. The means were ridiculous, but at least the ends worked out for now.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social