All charges against Man Utd striker Mason Greenwood have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, but that doesn’t mean this is going anywhere soon.
The news that charges of attempted rape and assault are not to be pursued against Mason Greenwood by the Crown Prosecution Service crashed head-first into the news on Thursday afternoon. But while this is a difficult story to talk about on just about every level, even as an absolute legal minefield it should be discussed, because it has implications both for Man Utd and for football in this country more generally.
First of all, having failed to reach the threshold to press charges against somebody is categorically not the same as being found ‘innocent’. This isn’t to say that therefore the opposite is true, but it does bear repeating that law is specifically worded for good reasons.
It should also be added that only 1.3% of reported rapes get as far as charges being pressed, with less than 1% resulting in convictions. This is by no means a rare occurrence.
Man Utd have dealt with this in an appropriate way so far. The public statements they’ve made have been concise and to the point, and otherwise they’ve maintained silence, with even the leaks that had been coming from within their dysfunctional Class of ’22 this time last year having seemingly ended. The club have been put in an impossible position by such a situation landing at such a time, and they’ve probably handled it about as well as they might have been expected.
They issued a short statement a little over three hours after the news was made public, which would be expected considering the potential legal implications and the care required over such a matter. But regardless of the outcome of their promised internal investigation, it surely has to be the case that Greenwood cannot return to football, certainly not in the immediate future. It is not a comment on his ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ to suggest that him coming back could well be unfeasible.
Professional football has long been believed by some to be a world in which morals are an irrelevance, with all that actually matters being talent and winning matches, and Greenwood is a very good footballer. He would give most teams in the Premier League more talent and a better chance of winning matches than they currently have. But the moral implications and fan reaction would surely count for a lot, and while it’s difficult to say exactly to what extent this would be the case, it’s difficult to imagine that the response wouldn’t be at least hostile from even his own team’s supporters.
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Reading social media and fan forums indicates that there is a significant proportion of the Man Utd fanbase who would rather Greenwood never plays for their club again. If teams believe that signing him might cost them money, it may well be enough to put them off. At least for some period of time, moving to whatever different country finds it easier to ignore these problems may well be his only option.
And there is also a footballing perspective on this. Man Utd are playing their best football in years. A squad of players that was falling apart with dressing room leaks and rumours this time last year has lost its most disruptive elements and pulled together in a way that few expected at the start of this season. But dressing room politics can be complex and harmony can be fragile; why would Erik ten Hag want to run the risk of disrupting that?
What happens with Greenwood next? That will obviously largely be dependent on what Man Utd decide as a result of their internal investigation, though corporate sponsors had already suspended their connections with him and time will tell whether they return. Obviously, given the size of his contract, Man Utd need to mind their legal Ps & Qs before doing anything.
And in modern football, implications can be broad. At 4pm on the day before the CPS statement, United’s stock price on the NYSE was $22.77. When it was made, that price fell quickly to $22.25 before recovering to $22.59. These don’t look like huge rises or falls, but the amounts involved soon add up when you remember that there are more than 163.06 million of them in existence. And on top of that Man Utd are up for sale, while they have also been making financial losses of late.
From a completely value-neutral corporate standpoint it matters that they don’t mess this up, but this isn’t – and can’t be – a value-neutral standpoint. United will already be aware of the need to do the right thing and ‘the message they send out’ with the next decisions that they make. This may even be part of the reason for their own internal investigation. They need to be forensically thoughtful in their final call. For all we know, they may already have made it.
Football should use this moment as an opportunity to take stock of how it deals with allegations of rape or sexual assault, because it does rather feel as though clubs are left to fend for themselves when they arise. It would be beneficial for the game in general to develop an agreed protocol for every step that happens in cases like this, with players, clubs, fans and women’s groups involved. There could be a firm and substantive commitment made to educating players and staff, agreeing consensus for how clubs should act when faced with every step of the legal processes that take place.
Because, although the PR and corporate angles on all of this are understandable, it is also long past time for the game in this country to actually mean it. Man Utd were put in an impossible position in part because there is no single agreed way to deal with such matters. But it’s hardly the first time that something like this has happened, and while this is all a minefield, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to negotiate our way through it, providing we’re careful and thoughtful about it all.