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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Inside the 72 chaotic hours that ended Mason Greenwood’s Man Utd career

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Evidence suggested club were preparing to reintegrate the forward but pressure from within and outside forced executives to change course The tone of the statement Manchester United released last Wednesday hardly sounded like that of a club gearing up to ditch Mason Greenwood.Emphasising their “responsibilities” to a player who had been with the club since the age of seven and how their internal investigation into the allegations that surrounded the 21-year-old striker had “drawn on extensive evidence and context not in the public domain”, United seemed to be laying the groundwork for a potential return.Indeed, all roads appeared to have been pointing that way for a couple of weeks. Richard Arnold, the United chief executive, had informed the club’s executive leadership at the start of the month that the intention was to bring Greenwood back. A plan was reputedly laid out for an announcement on August 4 and there were even reports that he was planning to record a video to explain the decision.Officially, Arnold’s actions were cited simply as one potential scenario being modelled or “gamed” to senior staff, even if it is hard to believe the club would have gone to such lengths if they were gearing up to let Greenwood go.Having concluded during the findings of their investigation that Greenwood had not committed the acts for which he was charged and that there were no grounds to terminate his £75,000-a-week contract, United’s top brass felt there were reasonable grounds to try to reintegrate the player into the squad. Erik ten Hag, the manager, and football director John Murtough were understood to be supportive of that move. Richard Arnold – the man at the centre of Mason Greenwood decision Credit: Getty Images/Oli Scarf Yet when the message in that club statement dropped into the inboxes of all United staff at 3.44pm on Wednesday, it would set in motion a chaotic, whirlwind 72 hours in which club executives gradually rowed back from plans to keep Greenwood and began seriously rethinking matters in the face of intense internal and external criticism.By 11pm last Friday, after the latest round of crisis talks among the executive leadership team that had been convened in February in the wake of the Crown Prosecution Service announcing that charges of attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and controlling and coercive behaviour against Greenwood had been dropped, the about-turn was complete.With United in action against Spurs on Saturday, and with no desire to in any way draw attention away from England’s involvement in the Women’s World Cup final against Spain the next day, a formal announcement was held back until Monday afternoon.This is not the first time United have about-turned at the first glimpse of a public outcry. While the cases are very different, supporters have not forgotten how the club secretly planned to join the much-derided European Super League in April 2021 only to quickly back down when the extent of the opposition became clear.The public backlash over Greenwood had actually begun to gather momentum in the days before United’s opening game of the new Premier League season, against Wolves, on August 14.A supporter group – Female Fans Against Greenwood’s Return – had released a strongly worded statement three days earlier in which they urged the club not to take Greenwood back. The same day, reports emerged that United had delayed plans to announce a decision before the Wolves match in order to consult with the women’s team, three members of whom – Mary Earps, Ella Toone and Katie Zelem – were away at the Women’s World Cup with England.Some of United’s female players suddenly found themselves the victim of social media abuse on the eve of England’s quarter-final against Colombia with Earps, Toone and Zelem being petitioned to allow Greenwood’s return. It was a grim development and added another layer of emotion to the protests outside Old Trafford pre-Wolves, where a banner in United colours was displayed that read: “Female Fans Demand No Greenwood Return – End Violence Against Women”. Some Manchester United fans made their views about the Greenwood situation clear Credit: Twitter By that stage, United’s hierarchy were still of a mind to plough on but the mood changed markedly after last Wednesday. By the next morning, senior United staff were having to explain themselves to angry employees, with those conversations even carrying on into the next day. Telegraph Sport has spoken to numerous staff who were vehemently opposed to the idea of Greenwood returning. There have even been reports of some staff considering resigning or going on strike over the matter.Others have adopted a more measured tone and accepted that they have not been privy to the information available to the executive panel led by Arnold and comprising chief operating officer Collette Roche, the club’s legal counsel Patrick Stewart, chief communications officer Ellie Norman and Murtough.The investigation team had gone to considerable lengths during five months of inquiries to understand what took place between Greenwood and his alleged victim and, while the complainant did not engage with the club directly, it is understood that her mother did with her knowledge. United are said to be satisfied that Greenwood did not physically abuse the alleged victim after being provided with explanations for the materials posted online in January 2022 before the player’s initial arrest and that these explanations were not contested by the complainant’s family. Based on conversations with the alleged victim’s mother, United are also said to be satisfied that the alleged victim was not subjected to coercive control by Greenwood.Greenwood said on Monday that he understands “people will judge me” and “think the worst” and United were certainly left under no doubt last week about the strength of feeling the case has generated.Arnold and the club began receiving emails from fans outlining their opposition to Greenwood returning. Before too long, the outcry had grown louder and louder as domestic abuse charities and MPs waded in. Women’s Aid wrote directly to United to voice their concerns and subsequently took to Twitter to rebuke the club for apparently referring to women’s groups as potential “hostile” critics during their scenario planning.Andrew Western, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, criticised United’s handling of the case. After Rachel Riley, the Countdown presenter and an avid United fan, came out and said she would no longer support the club if Greenwood stayed, United even found the matter being debated on BBC’s Newsnight.By the end, the pressure seemed to have become too much for the club to withstand any longer.

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