Earlier this summer, during a strategy meeting involving dealmakers in Saudi Arabian football, the possibility of signing Mason Greenwood from Manchester United came up in conversation.

Very swiftly, any move for the 21-year-old English forward was ruled out, as the Saudis decided the anticipated negative public relations surrounding Greenwood would not be beneficial to the country’s attempts to win the hearts and minds of football supporters across the world.

Greenwood, at that point, was no longer under charges from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK for attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and controlling and coercive behaviour. All those charges, which Greenwood has always denied, were dropped by the CPS on February 2 this year, following the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material coming to light, which led the CPS to conclude they no longer had a “realistic prospect of conviction”.

In a short statement, the forward said he was “relieved that the matter (was) now over”. Seven months on, with Greenwood still to kick a ball in a professional match, he has been signed on loan by Spanish top-flight club Getafe, where he could line up against Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.

Despite the criminal proceedings ending, Manchester United had launched an inquiry of their own, as they sought to gain a fuller understanding of the circumstances that led to Greenwood’s brush with the law. The club knew that the police became aware of graphic images and videos circulating online before arresting Greenwood. In the footage, a man could be heard shouting at his alleged victim to “move your f** legs up”. The woman replies that she does not want sex and the man responded: “I don’t give a f* what you want, you little s*.”



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

After six months of investigation, United’s chief executive Richard Arnold initially told his executive leadership team on August 1 of his intention to bring Greenwood back into the club’s first-team, formulating extensive plans previously reported by The Athletic, only for the club to U-turn following a social media backlash. Arnold would later claim he was taking various factors and views into account right up until the point of finalising his decision.

In an open letter to supporters on August 21, Arnold acknowledged the club had been “unable to access certain evidence for reasons we respect” but added that “the evidence we did collate led us to conclude that Mason did not commit the acts he was charged with”. Ultimately, however, Arnold said that the “harsh spotlight of Manchester United” would prove too challenging for Greenwood to rebuild his career, while also conceding the polarised views on a potential return jeopardised the unity within the club.

Yet United did not terminate Greenwood’s contract, which has just under two years remaining on a £75,000-per-week salary, and they committed publicly to helping him resume his career on the field, as well as continue to support Greenwood in his personal life.

Greenwood’s problem, however, was that United announced their final decision on August 21 and the transfer window closed in most markets, with the exception of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on September 1. United did not make clear in their statement how they wished to proceed with Greenwood, with the options of selling the player, loaning the player or settling up his contract and paying Greenwood off all under consideration.

Ultimately, United decided to move Greenwood out on a loan deal and they had around ten days to make it happen, but the club had a busy period of incomings and outgoings. The United football director John Murtough and the club’s director of negotiations Matt Hargreaves had plenty on their plate as they sealed the signings of Jonny Evans, Altay Bayindir, Sergio Reguilon and Sofyan Amrabat, as well as moving out Dean Henderson, Brandon Williams, Teden Mengi, Noam Emeran, Marc Jurado, Charlie McNeil, Logan Pye and Alvaro Fernandez on a mixture of loan deals and permanent exits.

Murtough, one of those executives who was supportive of Greenwood’s reintegration at United, has known the player’s father, Andrew, for a number of years and the next steps for Greenwood became a priority concern for United’s football director. The issue, however, was finding a destination. The Saudi Pro League remained uninterested. Sources close to Saudi clubs, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect their jobs due to the sensitivity of the topic, suggested the emerging league were wary of a backlash against Greenwood overshadowing the clubs’ attempts to grow its women’s league in the Gulf country, while Saudi Arabia is also currently waiting to hear whether it has been successful in its bid to host the Women’s Asian Cup.

The Saudis also made no attempt to sign the former Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy, who instead completed a permanent transfer to French Ligue 1 club Lorient five days after being found not guilty of rape. The former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard wrote that it was “FAKE NEWS” when Al-Ettifaq, the Saudi club he manages, were linked with a move for Greenwood.



How Benjamin Mendy returned to football - five days after being found not guilty of rape

With the Saudis out of the picture, United scoured Europe for opportunities. United kept their processes around the deal as discreet and confidential as possible, partially because the club feared that if news emerged of a club being linked with Greenwood before a deal was concluded, then they too could find themselves in the eye of a media and social media storm, just as United had been earlier in the month.

Agents across the continent approached clubs claiming they could construct a deal for Greenwood but it was never entirely clear to those involved whether the representatives actually had a mandate from United to do a deal. In the case of one Spanish club, their sporting director told The Athletic he had been approached by 20 agents claiming they could pull off a deal for Greenwood. United declined to guide or comment when asked which agents were actually instructed by the club to facilitate a loan move for the 21-year-old. One motivation for using intermediaries may be that it would provide clubs who were curious about the terms of a deal, but who may have been concerned about the reputational risk of public association with Greenwood, with some form of plausible deniability if any reports emerged, because they could then say they had not held talks directly with United.

Greenwood had first been touted on loan to leading Italian clubs back in the spring, including Atalanta. At this point, United were giving serious consideration to sending the player out on loan, before Arnold told his executives he had decided to bring the player back into the United fold in August. Some staff at Italian clubs subsequently told The Athletic they would have considered their jobs if Greenwood had been signed by their employers.

In the closing weeks of the window, agents approached all manner of clubs, with Brentford among the English sides who declined, as well as Borussia Dortmund in Germany, while Roma and AC Milan in Italy also distanced themselves. Another challenge for Greenwood is that the French and Spanish leagues impose limits on the number of non-EU players they can register as part of their squads and the English striker would be considered non-EU following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union in 2016. In France, the limit is four, while in Spain, five may be registered but only three may be included in a match day squad. In Italy, the limit is two non-EU players but in July a ruling came into force which means Swiss and British players are considered, essentially, to be European nationals.



Who are Getafe, Mason Greenwood’s new club? How are they run? What have they said?

The ticking clock presented challenges but also opportunities, as clubs across Europe tend to become more impulsive and panicked as a deadline looms. On Friday, September 1, which was deadline day for most European leagues, the conversations around Greenwood intensified and it is likely that concurrent conversations were taking place with various interested parties.

The interest from Italian Serie A club Lazio, who are in the group stages of this season’s UEFA Champions League, was significant. Indeed, legal documents were exchanged between United and Lazio but the clubs failed to reach a final agreement before the Italian 7pm deadline. The Spanish deadline, however, was aligned with England’s 11pm cut-off point, which gave room for Getafe to move in. In Italy, there were conflicting reports about why the deal with Lazio did not conclude but the independent news source La Lazio Siamo Noi, as well as more mainstream publications such as Il Tempo and Il Messaggero each reported that the club’s head coach Maurizio Sarri had concerns about the player’s suitability, owing to his reputation but also because Greenwood has not played a professional football match since January 2022. In the final hour of the window, Lazio also made an unsuccessful move for Manchester City youngster Oscar Bobb, indicating a shift in priorities.

The circumstances of the summer transfer window had catapulted Getafe into the frame. The club’s summer plans had been predicated around a potential sale of forward Enes Unal to Portuguese club Benfica, but an untimely anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury for the Turkish forward left the club working to a more modest budget and it culminated in a final-day scramble in which they would sign Diego Rico, Oscar Rodriguez and Greenwood to wrap up their window.

People familiar with the negotiations said Getafe would pay no loan fee for the player, while their overall salary commitment extended to just €1million (£858,000) over the course of a season-long loan option which does not include any option or obligation for Getafe to purchase Greenwood next summer. The deal means United are continuing to shoulder the burden of at least £50,000 of the player’s £75,000-per-week salary, with Getafe covering a small fraction of the cost.

A Getafe spokesperson confirmed to The Athletic the loan deal also includes a break clause that could be triggered in January, should the parties be unhappy with how the move has developed. This is standard practice in many loan deals, rather than an indication that United are planning to recall him midway through the season once his football is up and running. United insist they stand by their previous messaging that the club do not expect Greenwood to represent the club again, but the striker will return to Old Trafford next summer following the culmination of the loan, and United also retain the option to extend Greenwood’s contract, which expires in 2025, by a further year, should they wish to protect a resale value.

A Getafe spokesperson suggested the club did not request to see the internal findings of United’s inquiry. They described Greenwood as a “huge talent”, before adding: “We do not want to enter the investigation. This guy has been declared innocent, judged, he is innocent like you or me. The moment we see that he is innocent we have no more to say.”

At 10.48pm on Friday evening, 12 minutes before the deadline, Getafe’s social media account posted a message in English to say “Keep calm, announce coming”, along with an English flag and a timer. At 10.58pm, they announced Greenwood’s signing and by Sunday late afternoon, the post had been viewed more than 30 million times. A subsequent post, which showed a group of young male Getafe supporters jumping up and down in celebration upon hearing the news, followed within half an hour of the announcement.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿⌛ pic.twitter.com/jsuDP0havF

— Getafe C.F. (@GetafeCF) September 1, 2023

A leading abuse charity in Spain was reported by the Daily Mirror to have said Getafe were “setting a terrible example“.

Ana Bella Estevez, of the Ana Bella Foundation, told the Mirror: “Getafe executives should never have hired Mason Greenwood and should immediately overturn their decision. If you’re a public-facing organisation like Getafe there is no excuse to take a neutral stance on violence against women — you must take moral responsibility.”

Following Getafe’s 2-1 defeat against Real Madrid on Saturday, the club’s head coach Jose Bordalas defended the club’s decision, concluding: “It is a very delicate situation to trivialise that issue. Everyone knows what happened and appropriate measures were taken. Everyone knows how it ended, with a non-conviction. He is a footballer of a very high level and arrives at Getafe with huge enthusiasm.”

Additional reporting: Adam Leventhal, James Horncastle

(Lead picture created using Getty Images)