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Manchester United Continues To Stumble Its Way Toward Reinstating Mason Greenwood

2:00 PM EDT on August 16, 2023

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Manchester United supporters protest against Mason Greenwood of Manchester United and the Glazers, owners of Manchester United, outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on August 14, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)
James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Lifelong Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood hasn't been with the club in a year and a half, after they suspended him in Jan. 2022 following an arrest on suspicion of rape and sexual assault. The arrests were sparked by a series of graphic social media posts, which included photos and an audio recording, made by a woman named Harriet Robson alleging to show Greenwood's abuse. Greenwood was swiftly dropped by Nike and other sponsors, and Greater Manchester Police eventually charged him with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behavior, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The cops dropped charges this past February, saying, "A combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material meant there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."

United established a committee to conduct an internal investigation, clearing the way for either Greenwood's return or banishment from the club once top executives had the chance to review his case. It appears they are on the cusp of announcing his return, though the process has been far from smooth.

Over the summer, the club was reportedly monitoring Greenwood's off-site training progress, and discussed sending him on loan to Atalanta as part of the Rasmus Højlund deal. Greenwood and Robson announced the birth of a child together in July. Reports from late last week and early this week claim that United's committee reached a decision, with The Athletic reporting on Wednesday that chief executive Richard Arnold told the rest of the senior leadership team that they'd decided to reinstate Greenwood and wanted to news-dump the decision on Friday, Aug. 4. But that was almost two weeks and one Premier League game ago, and still no announcement has been made, so what gives?

Per ESPN and others, the club delayed the announcement to check in with key "stakeholders," including fans, sponsors, and, ominously, members of the women's team currently in the Southern Hemisphere on World Cup duty. Putting any sort of real weight on Manchester United women's players to make a decision on the reinstatement of a men's team player arrested for sexual assault would be beyond fucked up—not only would it put them in the un-winnable position of bearing fan anger no matter which conclusion they advocated for, it would propagate the disastrous notion that women are somehow responsible for the absolution of men who have committed sexual assault—and those reports drew protests at United's EPL-opening win against Wolves on Monday. A bloc of MUFC fans released a lengthy, scathing statement last Friday.

United finally made public comment on the matter on Wednesday, releasing a statement announcing that they had finished up their internal investigation, one that relied upon "extensive evidence and context not in the public domain." Interestingly, they stressed that they had not reached a decision on Greenwood's future, though they did stress that "we also have responsibilities to Mason as an employee, as a young person who has been with the club since the age of seven, and as a new father with a partner." There is a throughline of contempt toward media reports on the case, and the tone of the statement makes it seem like they are laying the groundwork for his return, or at least taking the public's temperature. Indeed, reports this morning ahead of the statement indicated that United had chosen to reinstate Greenwood, only to delay the announcement.

One factor tilting the balance in favor of Greenwood is that manager Erik ten Hag and MUFC senior soccer leadership are all reportedly in favor of bringing him back in, and as we have seen in numerous cases across sports over the years, those voices tend to hold the most sway. "However, others might argue that United may be motivated by the fact Greenwood has two years remaining on a £75,000-per-week contract," writes The Athletic, "and are loath to give up on a player who scored 35 goals in 129 first-team appearances at United."

That's a particularly disappointing rationale to see deployed in the context of European soccer, where constant roster churn and sunk costs are a part of everyday life. Manchester United does not need Mason Greenwood in order to be successful, and cutting him loose wouldn't hurt any more than any one of the failed transfers and career flops that every team deals with every season. That the club seems desperate to bring him back and continue a recent trend of afflicting itself with off-field issues that eventually manifest as on-field issues is just as stupid as it is reprehensible. No matter what decision United end up making, the way this situation has been handled so far shouldn't inspire much confidence in the people in charge.

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