The chief executive of Manchester United’s charity arm has apologised and said he is ‘mortified’ after joking to Alessia Russo that he wouldn’t hand over her Women’s Player of the Year trophy because it was ‘too heavy’.
Russo scooped the prize during the club’s glitzy end-of-season awards ceremony on Monday night after an excellent season in which she scored 12 goals in all competitions as United narrowly missed out on their inaugural WSL title.
But there was an awkward moment when she was up on stage with the Manchester United Foundation’s chief executive John Shiels.
In a video which has been shared on social media, Shiels said: ‘I’m not going to give this trophy to Alessia because it’s so heavy.’
Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves, who was hosting the ceremony, quickly followed up: ‘I’m sure you (Russo) can take it quite happily can’t you?’
Alessia Russo (left) was named Man United’s Women’s Player of the Year on Monday night – with the prize handed over by club foundation chief executive John Shiels (right)
Shiels has come under criticism on social media after he joked to Russo that he wouldn’t hand over the award because it was ‘too heavy’
As Shiels then passed the trophy to Russo, Shreeves followed up: ‘John, I think you need to take up more weight training. It’s not that heavy.’
In a statement to Mail Sport, Shiels, who has held the position at the MU Foundation for 15 years, apologised to the England and Man United star for his remarks.
‘Last night I had the honour of presenting Alessia Russo with the Women’s Goal of the Season award at the Manchester United end-of-season awards ceremony,’ he said.
‘I made a comment about the weight of the trophy which I know has caused offence. I am mortified by this and want to apologise to Alessia, her teammates, and anyone else offended.
‘I alerted Alessia to the weight of the trophy because I was shocked by how heavy it felt, and would have done the same if presenting to a male player.
‘I simply did not want her to drop it. However, on reflection, I can see why the comment has been misconstrued.
‘Female empowerment is at the heart of Manchester United Foundation’s work in our local community, with almost 10,000 girls and young women taking part in our programmes annually.
‘I’m proud of this work and upset that my remarks created a distraction from the fantastic achievements of Alessia and the women’s team this season.’
Shiels’ comments sparked criticism on social media as users said Russo looked ‘uncomfortable’.
Social media users said that Russo looked ‘uncomfortable and embarrassed’ after the remarks
Conor Roberts tweeted: ‘Second hand embarrassment from this. Alessia looks so uncomfortable & embarrassed.
‘Unfortunately still people out there who treat female athletes differently. Such an unnecessary comment to make.’
Matt Johnson in response, wrote: ‘Casual sexism at a moment when she should be celebrated. Such a poor way to treat our own player.’
@Kazfootie commented: ‘These are our players… we should be protecting them not adding to the misogyny and sexist comments that they already have to live with.’
While another person tweeted: ‘Embarrassing. You can clearly see how uncomfortable Alessia is with his ‘joke’.’
One user praised Russo for how she handled the comment, saying: ‘Yikes. She handled it so well. But what a mess.’
Russo was named Manchester United’s Women’s Player of the Year on Monday night
Following a tenure as head of Manchester United Soccer Schools, Shiels took on the role as CEO of Manchester United Foundation in 2008.
Shiels was awarded an MBE in the late Queen’s Birthday Honours List back in 2021 after decades of service to helping young people.
Man United’s stars dressed to impress as they hit the red carpet for the club’s end of season awards ceremony.
The Red Devils, and their partners, were spotted suited and booted as they celebrated their 2022-23 campaign for their senior and academy sides.
There were plenty of awards handed out on the night as the Red Devils teams – men’s, women’s and academy – celebrated their 2022-23 campaigns.
Marcus Rashford won the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year award, while Antony’s strike at home to Barcelona won the Goal of the Season prize.
Hannah Blundell claimed the Players’ Player of the Year while Russo’s goal away at Arsenal was awarded as the best strike.
In the academy, Kobbie Mainoo won the Jimmy Murphy Award, Dan Gore clinched the Denzil Haroun Award, Holly Deering won Young Player of the Year and Bella Reidford won Player of the Year.
The Red Devils also launched the inaugural Fan Award named after the late Ian Stirling and confirmed it’ll be a permanent feature of their end-of-season awards.
During the ceremony, United men’s boss Erik ten Hag warned his stars still need to ‘do better’ as they prepare for the next campaign.
‘For me, they know it, good is not good enough. We have to do better. But, of course, after the start [of the season], Brighton and Brentford… we are happy. We are in the right direction. But satisfied? No, we are not.
Marcus Rashford clinched the Players’ Player of the Year and Player of the Year award Man United’s end of season award ceremony
‘When you show the confidence and belief in the plan and your team-mates, you will win. We did it in so many games. But, also, we dealt with setbacks.
‘So, it’s a resilient team with character and personality. Those are all attributes that you need for a successful season and [to] win trophies.’
United play Man City in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
United’s women have qualified for the Champions League next season but were beaten in the final of the FA Cup by Chelsea.