The audio clip that many of us will have heard by now runs for 51 seconds. It’s graphic, aggressive, upsetting. Devastating, actually. Then you have the images – the young woman’s bruises to her arms and legs, her bleeding lip, the caption that makes a claim about who did it.
We don’t know for certain who we are hearing, of course, but we do know it is the stench that has followed Mason Greenwood for 18 months. It followed him before the Crown Prosecution Service dropped their case against him in February, it has followed him since, and it could follow him for the next two years of his contract, too.
Or will Manchester United say no to him? And will no mean no? Will no mean stop. No would mean he could ask politely, but what else might he do next?
By the day, this saga of Greenwood’s future seems to change. It flips, it flops. They make plans and they seem to change plans. Last Wednesday a United statement pointed to the existence of ‘extensive evidence and context not in the public domain’, and for all the world it felt like groundwork was being laid for a reintegration. A reintegration based on something concrete, we could only hope. Something that wasn’t rooted in his monetary value to the club, we might wish.
But come Saturday evening, it was awfully soft under the feet again – a report was published in The Sun that the handbrake was going on. That yes was now leaning towards a no, and it is reasonably easy for the cynics in us to draw conclusions on the origins of all those twists and turns, because wind shifts are problematic when there is a sewage farm nearby.
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We knew a growing section of the fans didn’t like it, and then Rachel Riley from Countdown voiced her opposition. Soon a Member of Parliament joined her as the media attention grew. And then there were five of them.
But let’s not get lost in the fuzz of prominent names or positions, because who among us could truly be comfortable watching or celebrating a team when one of its components is operating under such a cloud? Not when we have seen the images. Not when we have heard the audio.
They are the elements that cannot be unheard and unseen and they are at the heart of this. Is it him?
It should be stressed that we don’t know with forensic accuracy, but no one has ever said otherwise publicly, and for now they stand out in a situation that has been become ever so complicated.
Are there mitigating circumstances? What have United found in the past six months of investigating that might override what was in those social media posts in January 2022? Is it correct that the club, in line with some detailed reporting, were open to the idea of Greenwood playing for the team and not appearing in community initiatives, as if he was fit for one and not the other?
They are questions that will need answering as a point of urgency, more so if United do go ahead with the plan, and also if they don’t, because this remains a situation of vast unknowns.
What we do know is the audio and images appeared in January 2022 and Greenwood was arrested. We also know the CPS dropped their charges of attempted rape, assault and coercive behaviour because of the withdrawal of a key witness and a diminishing chances of prosecution. We know about innocent until proven guilty and we know such a well-meaning standard is never so violated as in cases of sexual assault against women.
But the unknowns are still so great, up to and including the resolution to how Manchester United solve a problem like Mason Greenwood. Which is why we wait to see when, if ever, this great club of vast importance will show some solid leadership.
Man United’s chief executive Richard Arnold appears to have cut an indecisive figure of late
Meanwhile, Greenwood continues to train privately, away from the camp at Carrington
But what is leadership? Or rather, who? Is it the Glazers, whose muddled management of this institution has shown itself in such bad light for so many years? Or it is Richard Arnold, the chief executive who is meant to be the ruling mind in this most troubling of cases?
The same Richard Arnold who, according to some superb reporting by Adam Crafton in The Athletic, had resolved to keep Greenwood and was due to drop that bomb in a video message to staff and the public at the start of the month. The same Richard Arnold who is now said to be leaning the other way. The same Richard Arnold who might hopefully sit in front of an open press conference one day and answer some of those earlier questions.
Since February 2, it is the decision that has stalked him and the club and the player, when they picked up the pieces of a case dropped by the CPS. We can’t envy them that, just as we very much can query a scenario where we need Manchester United to convince us they have the capacity and integrity to establish the facts of the matter. A matter that placed them as judge and jury in a saga where one verdict might mean writing off an asset worth tens of millions of pounds.
It was never going to be easy. Far from it. But so far they have made it look devilishly hard.
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