Manchester United and Mason Greenwood: duty of care or double standards?

The 21-year-old footballer’s possible return has provoked an outpouring of dismay from supporters

Manchester United fans Greenwood
United fans protest outside Old Trafford at the club’s first game this season
(Image credit: Simon Stacpoole/Getty Images)

Mason Greenwood returning to play football for Manchester United would be “devastating”, female fans of the club have said.

The 21-year-old forward has not played for United since he was arrested in January 2022 after graphic images and audio, alleged at the time to involve Greenwood, were released on social media.

Charges including attempted rape and assault – all related to the same woman, and all of which Greenwood denied – were discontinued in February of this year.

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After United’s own lengthy investigation, the club’s chief executive, Richard Arnold, is set to decide whether Greenwood can resume his career at United and a decision could be announced next week. “Inside the club there is a sense it would represent a major surprise if the player were not to come back,” said The Guardian’s Manchester football correspondent Jamie Jackson.

‘A double standard in football’

The case highlights a “double standard in football”, said Richard Jolly in The Independent. “Were a steward, a kitman or a press officer to have behaved as Greenwood did, it would be a simple decision to dismiss them for gross misconduct. But footballers are treated differently and United are wrestling with the question of how to justify that.”

Greenwood’s prospective return has provoked an outpouring of dismay from supporters. Television presenter Rachel Riley said she wouldn’t continue to support the club if Greenwood played for them again. “We’ve all seen and heard enough. It would be devastating for my club to contribute to a culture that brushes this under the carpet. I really hope they do the right thing,” she said on social media.

Riley’s words underline the problem for Manchester United that “the audio is always going to be out there”, wrote Daniel Taylor for The Athletic. “No matter how much they try to soothe public opinion, how much PR they sprinkle over it, that recording in isolation will always damn Mason Greenwood,” Taylor argued.

‘A decision for the market’

The whole case has been a damaging episode for the club for some time. But for an “update” on Greenwood’s future to be released on “arguably the most glorious day in the history of English women’s football seems grotesquely ill-judged”, wrote the Evening Standard’s business editor Jonathan Prynn.

“There has been a pattern of unacceptable, and sometimes criminal, sexual behaviour at the elite level of the men’s game for many years now,” he added. “This is surely the moment for the men – and it almost always is men – who run the game to draw a line in the sand.”

But Manchester United “would probably be right if they concluded that virtually any other club would keep Greenwood” as it is “a reality of football”, said The Independent’s Jolly. And United “do have a duty of care to Greenwood, and there are powerful voices within the club who believe in rehabilitation”, said The Times’s chief football writer Henry Winter. But they “also have a duty of care to their women’s team and to those many supporters who do not want Greenwood anywhere near their club”.

In the end, though, it won’t be “the victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence, the numerous courageous female United fans who have pledged to keep fighting and protesting until Greenwood is out of the club” who will decide if he plays again, said The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew. “It will, as ever, be a decision for the market alone.

“The market always gets what it wants in the end, whether you like it or not,” Liew added. “‘I asked you politely and you wouldn’t do it,’ the man’s voice says on the audio [leaked on social media]. ‘So what else do you want me to do?’”

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Jamie Timson is the UK news editor, curating The Week UK's daily morning newsletter and setting the agenda for the day's news output. He was first a member of the team from 2015 to 2019, progressing from intern to senior staff writer, and then rejoined in September 2022. As a founding panellist on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, he has discussed politics, foreign affairs and conspiracy theories, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. In between working at The Week, Jamie was a senior press officer at the Department for Transport, with a penchant for crisis communications, working on Brexit, the response to Covid-19 and HS2, among others.