Manchester United have decided to lovingly and supportively part company with the forward Mason Greenwood. Greenwood was accused of attempted rape, assault, and controlling and coercive behaviour, until the complainant withdrew her cooperation, new material came to light, and the CPS dropped the charges in February.
Reaching the decision has taken the club six months of what is known in technical investigative terms as “pissing about”, and was communicated to fans on Monday afternoon by the chief executive, Richard Arnold, in an “open letter”. Were the open letter format not notoriously mad enough, Arnold seems to have decided to write his in the tone of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “consciously uncoupling” statement.
No matter that there were reportedly strong indications that the diametrically opposite decision to retain Greenwood was on the verge of being taken last week, only for the club to seemingly U-turn in the face of widespread outcry from a range of quarters, including sections of the fanbase, domestic violence charities and MPs. Are these people “stakeholders”, in the bromidic parlance of Arnold and the rest of the Old Trafford C-suite? They certainly and rightly seemed to be sharpening the stakes they were holding. Having blathered on in his open letter about “the unity we are seeking within the club”, Richard would like fans to know that as far as Mason and the alleged victim are concerned, the football club is committed to “help them rebuild and move forward positively with their lives”.
So completely out of his depth with this way of talking is former accountant Richard that he sounds like Succession’s Cousin Greg at the congressional committee hearing, caught in the headlights and hoping hifalutin language will figleaf his inadequacies. “If it is to be said, so it be … so it is,” flails Greg. “I merely wish to answer in the affirmative … fashion.” After a quizzical pause, his interrogator says: “You can speak to us normally.”
Sadly, Richard Arnold can’t speak normally. Instead, the United chief executive retreated yet again into blandishments about “duty of care”, on the basis that Greenwood has been with the club since he was seven. To which the only reasonable response is: then you haven’t done a very good job with him, have you?
Greenwood is now a grownup and should absorb a lesson we could all do with learning as early as possible in our professional lives: don’t expect work to love you back. I feel like it’s my duty of care to offer Richard/Mason/“whoever needs to hear it” a dose of reality: football is a money trench that literally sells its employees when it’s had enough of them or they turn out to be inferior goods. Even this week, a senior United staff member was reportedly addressing the Greenwood saga in terms of losing an entity referred to as “a £100m asset”. Sorry, but banging on about “duty of care” is not for these people. In fact, I haven’t heard such a hilariously misplaced stab at faux-woke corporate-speak since last month, during Coutts’s ludicrous attempt to take the moral high ground with Nigel Farage. During that saga, you might recall, Coutts kept droning on that it was “diverse, equitable and inclusive”. I mean, it’s a private bank where customers need £1m in investments or £3m in their savings accounts. So …. WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!
As for the Greenwood probe, Manchester United’s bosses have dragged this one out so long that that they looked like they were hoping there was some route – any route – to not having to do the right thing, and that it would turn up if they simply waited it out. If one had presented itself at any point, it feels like they would have taken it.
The club claims to have spent six months on a painstaking investigation, which they are much too self-effacing to say is longer than the vast majority of rape investigations in this country (perhaps part of why such a vanishingly small percentage of them ever even make it to trial). “We have limited powers of investigation,” explained humble chief detective Richard Arnold, moments before declaring eye-catchingly that the club “conclude that Mason did not commit the acts he was charged with”.
Meanwhile, do Manchester United even have lawyers? We have to ask after Greenwood himself also released a presumably club-approved statement on Monday, in which he claimed that “in February I was cleared of all charges”. That wasn’t the case; in fact, the case was dropped. His statement also tended toward the Paltrow, speaking of the club’s investigation into those grim charges as “a collaborative process between Manchester United, my family and me”.
The only thing more horribly ridiculous than this is the club being onside with it. Using terms like “duty of care” for the player accused of being the male voice in the leaked audio that prompted the police investigation into Greenwood does not draw a line under the whole horrible business – or represent some elegantly modern way of dealing with a difficult situation. It’s really just some tactical anti-language being used for misdirection. You are intended to come away from it thinking that justice has been sensitively served, though you can’t quite put your finger on how. If it is to be said the can has been miskicked down the road to some other club, some other duty-of-care-giver … then so it be. So it is.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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