MARTIN SAMUEL: Football cannot look away from Mason Greenwood allegations

The urge might be to look away. The blood, the bruises, the smudged, frightened eyes. 

Here is true horror and, rather than confront it, the urge will be to retreat into incongruous concerns about assets written off or careers ended, as if Mason Greenwood and his employers are victims, too.

But football cannot look away. It cannot hide behind police processes, as important as they might be. 

Mason Greenwood has been arrested after allegations from a female emerged online 

It cannot think beyond the female and what has driven her to release the brutal images on Instagram and equally distressing audio.

So here is a watershed moment for the game, how it handles the allegations and how it views Greenwood.

In 2003, when Rio Ferdinand missed a drugs test and was removed from England’s squad pending a hearing, FA chief executive Mark Palios endured a tense conversation with a senior figure at Manchester United.

‘We are talking about a £30million asset for this club,’ he was told. ‘With respect,’ a weary Palios replied, ‘we’re talking about a little more than that.’

The world now watches to see how United view Greenwood following his arrest on suspicion of rape and assault.

Their first statement was a place-holder. ‘We are aware of images and allegations circulating on social media,’ United said. ‘We will not make any further comment until the facts have been established. Manchester United does not condone violence of any kind.’ 

Police arrived at the Man United striker's house on Sunday on suspicion of assault and rape

Police arrived at the Man United striker’s house on Sunday on suspicion of assault and rape

Good to know. Yet sport creates heroes and is ready to make excuses for them. Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson are legends of boxing still, yet both have histories of violence against women.

In football, players are not just employees, they are expensive human resources. Greenwood’s value to Manchester United is measured in tens of millions.

The club’s next move was crucial. Late yesterday afternoon, it was announced Greenwood would be suspended until further notice. No matches and no training sessions.

It was a welcome acknowledgement of the seriousness of the allegation. His team-mates, David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo among them, began unfollowing him on social media. It has not always been this way. In the past, clubs have continued to use players under suspicion until it becomes impossible, or utterly reprehensible, to do so.

Benjamin Mendy will this year face trial over seven counts of rape and one of sexual assault, involving five women. Yet Manchester City continued to select him until it became unconscionable to do so and may suffer marked reputational damage as a result when the trial unfolds. 

Sport has a double-standard for its biggest stars, with the likes of Mike Tyson still revered

Sport has a double-standard for its biggest stars, with the likes of Mike Tyson still revered 

Yet that judgment will not come from inside the game. Every club in football will recognise City’s strategy.

Brighton are continuing to play Yves Bissouma, who remains under investigation on suspicion of sexual assault. Indeed, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Newcastle have all been linked to him this transfer window.

No doubt those clubs, like Manchester United, do not condone violence of any kind. Many have invested a lot in women’s football, too, like Manchester City.

No PR campaigns or slogans, however, can cover a perceived casual attitude to violence against women. This has to be a turning point for the game. This is its Ray Rice moment.

In 2014 Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens NFL franchise, was arrested after striking fiancee Janay Palmer in a lift at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Footage later emerged of the incident showing Rice delivering a punch with such force Palmer bounced off a handrail, unconscious. He literally then dragged her out of the elevator, still senseless.

Rice’s initial suspension by the NFL was just two matches. The Ravens also banned him indefinitely. A huge outcry followed what was seen as light sentencing by the governing body, forcing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to come up with new rules governing domestic abuse.  

The 20-year-old forward is tipped for the top but football must decide where its priorities lie

The 20-year-old forward is tipped for the top but football must decide where its priorities lie  

These rules now deploy a six-game suspension without pay for a first offence and a minimum of a year for a second. That almost suggests the first offence punishment is not truly a deterrent.

Part of the problem for the NFL was that no part of their code of conduct policy specified the area of domestic abuse. When Rice’s beating went public, the governing body were forced to improvise. Will the Football Association or Premier League regulations fare any better?

There is a catch-all charge of bringing the game into disrepute and public opprobrium may do the rest.

Rice never played in the NFL again and no franchise picked him up as a free agent. But there will have been people in authority scouring rulebooks for guidance when the social media posts became known and they will have found very little to prepare them for this.

Should that surprise? Football is adept at T-shirts and banners and social media campaigns, but women in wider society have rarely been well served.

Everyone in the game has heard stories of excess, girls transported, flown in for parties, properties that exist to protect the privacy of players, their friends and any sexual conquests they collect on the way. 

Greenwood's team-mates, like Cristiano Ronaldo, quickly distanced themselves online

Greenwood’s team-mates, like Cristiano Ronaldo, quickly distanced themselves online  

Boys will be boys, girls will be girls, and as long as it’s all consensual, where’s the crime? Yet in Greenwood’s alleged threats and his accuser’s bruises, there is the sense of a warped, unequal culture that can only end in harm.

This is hardly new. In 2012, two days after Ched Evans was convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in prison, his name was celebrated at the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year dinner.

Evans had been included in the League One team for that season, which was read out, from one to 11, to continuous applause. No one thought it right to remove his name, because ‘the brochures had been printed’ and that would have seemed strange.

Evans is no longer a rapist because in 2016, his conviction was quashed on appeal and a retrial ordered, in which he was acquitted. Yet those at Grosvenor House Hotel four years previously were not applauding in the belief a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

Evans, by then incarcerated, was treated as a hero because the PFA — a trade union, for heaven’s sake — decided 35 goals for Sheffield United trumped a rape conviction.

The PFA have admitted women for 22 years, by the way. They no doubt have plenty of procedures covering non-payment of subs.

It is hard to imagine Manchester United were unaware of issues around Greenwood. Certainly there are mysteries about his career path that may now become easier to understand. 

Ched Evans was acquitted of rape but football's response to his initial conviction was flippant

Ched Evans was acquitted of rape but football’s response to his initial conviction was flippant 

Greenwood's case lays bare all of the sport's archaic shortcomings over such issues

Greenwood’s case lays bare all of the sport’s archaic shortcomings over such issues 

Gareth Southgate has avoided picking him for England since a disciplinary incident in Iceland in September 2020, also involving Phil Foden.

The pair broke coronavirus lockdown rules by inviting two girls to their hotel room yet, while Foden was swiftly rehabilitated, Greenwood has never been selected again.

Sometimes it has been at the request of his club. This is plainly one of the brightest young players in the country, so something wasn’t right. Everyone knew that.

Equally, last year, rumours abounded on social media that Greenwood had missed a match over an allegation of domestic violence. Again, this soon disappeared from the public domain.

With police now investigating and Greenwood arrested, it appears we may soon find out how much United knew about their player’s behaviour and what they did to address it.

Now, nobody is looking the other way.