“All those involved, including Mason, recognise the difficulties with him recommencing his career at Manchester United. It has therefore been mutually agreed that it would be most appropriate for him to do so away from Old Trafford, and we will now work with Mason to achieve that outcome.”

The impression all along has been that Manchester United’s approach to handling Mason Greenwood has been materially influenced by his perspective, and the statements explaining his impending departure from the club only reinforced that.

Greenwood went a stage further, in a statement released also by United: “Today’s decision has been part of a collaborative process between Manchester United, my family and me.”

Mutual agreement, collaboration — even to the end, Greenwood seems to have had great agency in a disciplinary procedure that was centred on some of the most serious alleged crimes, albeit ones he always denied.

He was charged with attempted rape, assault, and controlling and coercive behaviour. Audio had been posted online of a man saying: “I asked you politely and you wouldn’t do it (have sex). What else do you want me to do?”


(Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The case was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) because of the withdrawal of key witnesses. Now, United have based their findings primarily on Greenwood’s version of events. They were unable to speak to the complainant and had limited two-way interaction with her mother.

There were legal elements to this. The complainant gave police an “achieving best evidence” interview in January 2022, then withdrew her statement in April and asked Greater Manchester Police not to proceed. United did not gather direct testimony from her.

Nevertheless, that inevitably places greater emphasis on Greenwood’s explanations, which guided United to their original plan to bring him back, before my colleague Adam Crafton’s reporting brought on such a level of public backlash that the decision was reversed.

It was not the first time United have been prepared to ride through issues for Greenwood. Police visited Carrington during lockdown to seek assistance in keeping him from throwing parties in breach of Covid-19 regulations. As a younger player, he could be blunt when speaking to coaches.

But his ability always meant United were willing to move on from the indiscretions. And that instinct has endured even as the club is parting ways with him. United say they will work together with Greenwood to find a solution, be that a loan or a permanent transfer. They haven’t even confirmed categorically he will not play for the club again, although that is the expectation.

And then there is the exoneration.

Chief executive Richard Arnold said in his statement: “While I am satisfied that Mason did not commit the acts he was charged with, Mason’s accepted that he has made mistakes which he takes responsibility for.”

It is problematic in the extreme for him to express a judgement on matters that have not been heard in a court of law. At the time of the charges being dropped, a CPS spokesperson said: “There was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. In these circumstances, we are under a duty to stop the case. We would always encourage any potential victims to come forward and report to police and we will prosecute wherever our legal test is met.”

So Greenwood’s claim in his statement to have been “cleared of all charges” is not technically correct. He also risked potentially identifying the complainant, who is granted lifetime anonymity in law, in another sentence which The Athletic and others have chosen not to repeat.

These nuances are crucial when United are insisting their process was based on fact. “We were also conscious of our duty of care towards him and the importance of making a decision based on full information,” Arnold added.

Manchester United

(Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

This effort to stand by Greenwood, in words at least, might do further damage to the fanbase, however.

The “duty of care” argument is to some extent valid, given United have assisted other academy players when they have left the club. Paul Woolston was given media work and agency experience when he was forced to retire aged 23 last year. There are some though who would question where the duty of care was when they were let go by United. Tom Thorpe, captain of United’s FA Youth Cup winners in 2011, spoke in April to the Manchester Evening News about the absence of support when he left the club in 2015.

Greenwood’s talent has undeniably been a major factor in United’s response, and the lingering issue for the club is that everybody will remember they initially wanted to bring him back. Public pressure combined with internal pushback prompted United to change course — there were broadcasters who would have refused to conduct post-match interviews with him, many staff members expressed deep disquiet about his reintroduction and discussed what action they may take in response, there was unrest in the women’s team at being thrust into focus — and that inevitably alters the wider perception of the end result.

United say they had projected the strength of feeling but it is clear that the scale of the reaction caught them by surprise. Appointing an independent barrister to lead the investigation would have created distance between the club and their player, and offered an outside voice.

The whole process risks spreading disillusionment among supporters. Just as faith erodes each time the government is forced into a policy U-turn, United face the same consequences here.

Had United decided against reintegrating Greenwood in June, it would have conveyed a conviction about club priorities. Cutting the cord in August, after a backlash at the end of a process that stretched on for longer than anybody can explain, gives United the appearance of muddled thinking at best. It was no longer an ethical choice, but rather the only choice.

There are some who feel the time taken to reach this point is symptomatic of an ownership that is often excruciatingly slow. And although Arnold is at the forefront of the club, Joel Glazer was across the details of this case.

It should have been much swifter, but ultimately not allowing him to rejoin the first team is the right call. Playing for United is a privilege that ought to require a higher bar than beyond a reasonable doubt. Selecting Greenwood would have been tacitly endorsing the behaviour conveyed in that audio and photographs.

As Women’s Aid said: “Football players and the teams they play for have a unique position in shaping the attitudes of boys and men. Their behaviour both on and off the pitch is influential and transforming the culture in football will have a seismic impact on wider society.”

United’s statements were blind to that social contract. For those who knew nothing of the case, it would have appeared Greenwood was the victim. That is what has been wrong with United’s handling from the outset.



Mason Greenwood and Manchester United: The U-turn - what happened and why

(Top photo: Getty Images)