Warning: This article contains graphic sexual language which some readers may find distressing.

Manchester United’s leadership team has been told that Mason Greenwood is coming back to the club.

In a way, it comes as little surprise. For some time now, the feeling has been that United would re-open the door for the 21-year-old.

Even so, the likelihood of Greenwood pulling on a United shirt again remains a difficult reality to absorb.

He has not played for the club since he was arrested in January 2022 after graphic images and audio were released on social media. Charges of attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and controlling and coercive behaviour — all related to the same woman, and all of which Greenwood denied — were discontinued in February of this year.

Greenwood’s case has never been tried in court but those images and that audio are impossible to ignore.

On the first day of the season, a group of Manchester United supporters released a statement expressing their concerns about “taking Greenwood back”. It “tells us, as women, that we don’t matter,” it said, “that the 1 in 4 women who experience domestic abuse and/or sexual assault in the UK don’t matter. It tells us that the men who make the club money matter”.

I nodded while reading it, from start to finish.

Inviting Greenwood back into the fold would afford him the opportunity to rebuild his career and status as a Premier League footballer, even if the possibility of a return to the international arena with England remains less clear.

It gives him the chance to become a hero for young boys and girls too young to understand the reasons for his 18-month absence; who simply love United and anyone who dons the shirt – especially if they are match winners.

It sends a clear message that if you are a valuable asset who has the potential to bring in money and success, or a player with the kind of talent that sets you apart from your peers, then the rest is irrelevant. Manchester United seem to simply not care.



Explained: Mason Greenwood and Manchester United - the charges, investigation and planned return

Nothing about that last paragraph is much of a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less sickening to write.

United say no final decision has been made but, if Greenwood returns, the narrative around him among pundits and reporters will eventually shift. It’s just a question of how quickly that happens and how loud the noise is around his planned return.


Greenwood celebrates scoring in September 2019 (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

There might be an initial discussion dancing around the allegations, covering the steps United are (hopefully) taking to rehabilitate Greenwood, debating the position of young players as role models and the reasons the club felt it right to take him back. After that, his absence might be referenced now and again as part of assessing his performances (particularly if it takes time for him to reach his previous level).

But what about the uncomfortable details behind his disappearance from our television screens?

Broadcasters (and likely pundits, too) will be wary of getting too deep into the details. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and difficult given the restrictions around identifying the alleged victim (under UK law, those who complain of certain sexual offences are entitled to anonymity for life).

The further into the rear-view mirror those pictures and audio released on social media in January 2022 become, the easier it will be for some to gloss over the horror of the man’s voice, said to be Greenwood, when he said: “I’m going to f* you, you twat. I don’t care if you want to have f*ing sex with me. Do you hear me?”

We do not know the context of those posts but, with every game Greenwood plays and every goal he scores, they would be consigned further to history in the rush to celebrate the undeniable talents of a young footballer with the world at his feet.

I’ve tried to imagine hearing the crowd cheer as Greenwood comes off the bench or watching his team-mates mob him after he scores a goal. I’ve pictured my seven-year-old football-obsessed nephew recreating a Greenwood goal in his back garden. I’ve thought about how I spent this summer trying to get my young daughter to watch as much of the Women’s World Cup as I can in an attempt to show her that football is as much for girls as it is for boys.

And I feel complete disgust.

There are those who say Greenwood has been cleared of any wrongdoing; that he is an innocent man who should be able to get on with his life.

And that’s not just social media noise, either. One male pundit from a major Premier League broadcaster believes Greenwood was found not guilty of any wrongdoing and should be treated as such.

None of that is correct or right and if those falsities are given oxygen by people in positions of power and influence, then I fear history will be rewritten.

Greenwood is a free man not because he has been found innocent, but because the case never made it to court. In part, that’s because new evidence came to light and key witnesses withdrew their co-operation, according to the UK’s Crime Prosecution Service (CPS).



Manchester United told senior staff that Mason Greenwood will return

Reminder: alongside the charges of attempted rape and assault causing actual bodily harm, one of the charges against Greenwood was “engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour”, with the prosecution claiming Greenwood made threats and derogatory comments, monitored a woman’s social media accounts and changed the way she socialised.

Greenwood denied all the charges against him but he has never denied it is his voice on those clips.

And it is that audio and those pictures that remain so key now that there is no legal case for him to answer. They have shone a light on a different side of this particular sportsman, a side that no claim of “innocence” or withdrawal of key witnesses can ever erase as long as there are people alive who have seen and heard it.

In many ways, it reminds me of the situation surrounding American boxer Gervonta “Tank” Davis. In his most recent fight, the WBA “regular” lightweight champion knocked out Ryan Garcia, assuring him a place on many people’s pound-for-pound list and solidifying him as one of the sport’s biggest names.

The 28-year-old has twice been arrested on charges of battery/domestic violence. The first case, from 2020, related to an incident at a basketball game, which was recorded by CCTV, a clip of which was then released on social media. The 14-second video showed Davis forcefully grabbing the woman near her neck and pulling her out of her seat during the game. Davis then walked her out of the arena as they appeared to argue. The case dragged on for almost three years before the prosecution abandoned the charges in December 2022.


Davis in May 2022 (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Shortly afterwards, Davis was arrested again, on a domestic violence charge of battery causing bodily harm. The police report alleged he struck a woman on her head with a “closed-hand-type slap”. Those charges were dropped five months later because the woman didn’t wish to press charges.

Crowds flock to see Davis fight. He’s recognised as one of the sport’s biggest stars in America. He’s thrilling to watch and undeniably talented.

But when I heard commentators and podcast hosts heaping praise on his performance and throwing ahead excitedly to who he might fight next, I simply felt numb.

Just like the recordings of Greenwood, that video of Davis isn’t one I can forget.

Some people believe sport should be a ring-fenced arena where you can separate what its proponents do for a living from what they might do or represent on the outside; that footballers shouldn’t be positioned as role models simply because they can “play a bit”.

But how often does football position them as just that, posting social media pictures and videos of players visiting children’s hospitals at Christmas and engaging in clubs’ community projects (all of which are valid things to do)? Can the sport really then tell us to just look the other way when a player does something that stands in direct opposition to such an image?

I’m not sure it’s possible, particularly in these cases where we have seen and heard things that can never be erased from memory.

He has already been given a second chance by the charges against him being dropped. In order to be able to take it, he will need a lot of help and guidance. He will also need football – it’s his identity, all he has ever known and, without it, the danger is he becomes even more lost.

But that doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) mean strolling straight back into one of the biggest clubs in the world.

When Greenwood was first called up by the England senior team as an 18-year-old, there was annoyance at Manchester United that he was put up to speak at a press conference. Three years on, every time he steps on the pitch for United, he would be thrust into a far more hostile, unforgiving environment than any media pack could create.

Is it any different if he plays for a mid-table team in Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga? I’m sure many fans there would have similar feelings regarding him wearing their shirt. It would throw up the same moral and ethical questions but the glare of public scrutiny would be less intense than being at one of the most talked- and written-about clubs in the world; a club his actions have dragged into one of the most challenging and damaging situations in its long history.

And yet, that is what has been planned.

However Manchester United choose to justify it, they will never find the right words to explain away what many of us saw and heard.

Because they simply don’t exist.

(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)