Having spent the last couple of months seeking a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, in any other circumstances the return of Mason Greenwood could be seen as welcome news for Manchester United.
A rising star raised in the traditions of the club, an established first-team regular and a young man widely regarded as the best finisher at Old Trafford, who better to step into Ronaldo’s shoes following his acrimonious exit? In that sense, Greenwood certainly seems a more suitable fit than Wout Weghorst, the 6ft 6in Dutchman signed on loan from Burnley last month to help lead United’s attack.
In reality, however, Greenwood’s potential availability after attempted rape and assault charges were dropped against him on Thursday is a nightmare scenario for United as they attempt to navigate a moral minefield. In the year since he was first arrested, the club have prepared for life without him to the point of effectively writing off an asset who was valued at close to £134million in some quarters just a month earlier.
Judging by some of the transfer fees paid in the January window, Greenwood’s value could have been even greater than that now if he had continued on the same trajectory. But the fact is, it didn’t. Greenwood’s gilded career ground to shuddering halt the moment police knocked on his door in January 2022.
Over the course of the last 12 months, club sources have told Sportsmail that the worst possible outcome would be for the charges against Greenwood to be dropped or for the case to go to court and he be found not guilty. At lunchtime on Thursday, United’s worst fears became reality with confirmation from the Crown Prosecution Service that no further action will be taken against him.
Charges were dropped against Mason Greenwood, creating an issue for Manchester United
While Greenwood no longer faces any charges, it would be wrong to say that he is not damaged goods. The leaked audio file that began this whole unfortunate chain of events tarnished his reputation, and that of his club and sponsors, from the very start. It was enough for Nike to swiftly sever ties with the youngster without compensation following his arrest due to reputational damage and loss of commercial value.
Talks were already underway over a new deal that would have been worth millions. All trace of him disappeared from United’s online merchandise shop and versions of FIFA ‘22 while Cadbury, one of United’s official partners, said it would not use him in any marketing products while the allegations were being investigated.
In United’s case, one of the aims of the internal investigation launched yesterday (thurs) will be to determine if he has brought the club into disrepute to the extent that his £70,000-a-week contract can be torn up with more than two years left to run. This, after all, is a moral issue that extends far beyond the football pitch.
The last thing that United manager Erik ten Hag needs is a distraction of this nature
United need to consider what message Greenwood playing for them again would send out
United have a worldwide army of fans, a raft of global sponsors and, let’s not forget, a women’s team these days. What kind of message would Mason Greenwood running out at Old Trafford again in a red shirt send out? With the Glazer family currently open to offers for United for anything between £6-9billion, this is not a great time to be damaging the brand in any way. And then there are Greenwood’s teammates. Some of them stopped following him on social media in the wake of his arrest. Others struggled to warm to him even before that following his breakthrough into the first-team.
Most are fathers, many with daughters. Would they be expected to welcome him back with open arms after what they heard on the audio? United say that Greenwood will not be able to play for the club or train while the internal investigation is ongoing, but all they have done is to buy themselves time. Erik ten Hag has performed a minor miracle by improving the toxic atmosphere around the dressing-room since taking over in the summer, and the last thing he needs is a distraction of this nature.
Greenwood would need an incredibly thick skin if he is to play in the Premier League again
Ten Hag’s predecessor, Ralf Rangnick, described Greenwood’s arrest as ‘a disaster’ and it remains so in many ways. And what of the player himself? Whatever allegations have been levelled at Greenwood, whatever evidence has been leaked into the public domain, he is an innocent man who faces no charges. On that basis, he is free to live and work where he wants regardless of his profile. But United insiders have spoken for a long time about the 21- year-old being young for his age.
He would need the skin of a rhino to step back onto the pitch in the Premier League and play in front of a tens of thousands of fans every week again. Even in his absence, unsavoury chants have been heard from supporters of other clubs when they play United. Expect that to increase tenfold were he to step back on the pitch in this country. Supporters sang something similar about Ronaldo, relating to an allegation made in the US, and it didn’t stop until the day he left United in November.
A move to a foreign club could represent Greenwood’s best chance at rehabilitation
A move abroad has been mooted, and may represent Greenwood’s best shot at rehabilitation, but who’s to say the vitriol wouldn’t follow him there? There is no easy way forward for United and Greenwood. No winners in this one. There was a time when taking a girl back to the team hotel on England duty, getting told off for being late at United or inhaling nitrous oxide constituted a crisis for the Bradford-born player who had the potential to be one of the greatest of his generation.
But the last year has brought trouble on an entirely different scale altogether. Greenwood issued a statement last night expressing his relief, and that is understandable. He has been through personal hell. For his club, however, the problem of picking up the pieces from this sorry mess goes on.
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