On 21 August, Manchester United announced that it and Mason Greenwood had “mutually agreed” that Greenwood would resume his career away from Old Trafford. The club may have hoped this would draw an end to a turbulent period making headlines for all the wrong reasons, but, in the days that followed, the situation has only escalated with the behaviour of two more players coming under the spotlight. Head of Employment Joseph Lappin explains the difficulty Manchester United finds itself in.
Soon after the furore surrounding the club’s handling of the investigation into allegations concerning Mason Greenwood, the club announced that Brazilian winger Antony would take a leave of absence in light of assault allegations made against him by his former partner.
The club has most recently announced that Jadon Sancho, an £80m signing from Borussia Dortmund in July 2021, would not train with the first team until further notice “pending resolution of a squad discipline issue” raised by manager Erik Ten Hag. A busy period for the club’s lawyers and executives lies ahead.
Why did Manchester United decide Mason Greenwood should not re-join the first team this season?
CEO Richard Arnold’s statement in August regarding Greenwood’s future made clear that Greenwood’s contract would not be terminated and he would remain employed by Manchester United, albeit he would not be re-integrated into the first team. As the end of August approached a loan looked likely and, on 1 September, United announced that Greenwood would join Spanish La Liga club Getafe on loan for the 2023–24 season. He will remain under contract at Manchester United until 2025.
Manchester United first suspended Mason Greenwood after photographs and audio recordings emerged in which a man, allegedly Greenwood, could be heard making disturbing remarks. Since these were released on social media by the alleged victim, Greenwood’s future at the club has been unclear.
The full findings of the club’s investigation remain under wraps and we will need to wait and see what information, if any, the club makes public. Based on what is in the public domain, and the outrage voiced by supporters and domestic abuse charities when it looked like Manchester United might reintegrate him into the team this season, the fact that he will not play again for the club this season is not a surprise.
What is surprising is the length of time it took for the club to conclude its internal investigation – it is highly unusual for an internal investigation like this one to take six months to conclude – and the content of the statements released by both Arnold and Greenwood confirming he would play elsewhere this season.. In strong terms, both the club and Greenwood have rejected any notion that the player committed the offences he was originally charged with. Greenwood even suggested that he was “cleared” of all charges. This was an interesting choice of words because although the CPS dropped the charges he was not acquitted by a criminal court.
How has the Antony situation differed?
On 4 September, just three days after Greenwood’s loan to Getafe was announced, Brazilian news outlet UOL published allegations made against Manchester United winger Antony by his ex-partner. The Brazilian football federation quickly released a statement confirming the player had been withdrawn from the national squad after “facts became public” that “need to be investigated”.
The claims are now being investigated by authorities in Sao Paulo and by the Greater Manchester Police. Whilst Greenwood was suspended (on full pay) by United after he was put under arrest, in the case of Antony the club has decided to grant their player an “extended leave of absence” prior to any charges being brought.
Acting quickly to remove Antony from the playing squad, while not seeming to act presumptively in suspending the player, United seem to want to minimise the potential for further controversy surrounding the club as unfortunate events threaten to repeat themselves. What internal investigation the club is undertaking at this stage is unclear.
Manchester United’s considerations as a business and an employer
Despite the club’s statement that Greenwood will not play for the first team, he still represents an “asset” as a player with a transfer value, and United will have been pursuing various options to make a player sale or loan for months before his loan to Getafe. It is no secret that the Club had intended on re-integrating Greenwood to the playing squad before the U-turn and announcement he would leave Manchester to resume his playing career elsewhere.
Despite his ‘value’ plummeting and a short list of potential buyers, United may still hold hope that it can agree a transfer fee for Greenwood in the January transfer window, possibly a permanent sale to Getafe. Media reports suggest that United are still paying the majority of Greenwood’s salary and a player sale in January would allow United to make a saving in respect of Greenwood’s salary for six months.
Manchester United owes a duty to protect the health and safety of its staff, including everyone working at the club’s training ground. This applies to both the Greenwood and Antony cases, and explains United’s quick decision to grant Antony a ‘leave of absence’.
In the cases of both Greenwood and Antony, many employees of United will have concerns about both players returning to the training ground. If Greenwood had returned to the training ground this summer, a public backlash was inevitable. Many United fans had already protested against the possibility of Greenwood’s return before the team’s first Premier League game of the season.
Likewise, domestic abuse charities, some of the club’s sponsors and many members of staff would have been outraged if Greenwood had returned and a number of celebrities and even MPs had voiced their concerns about the prospect of him doing so. Parents will also have been worried about the message the club would be sending to its young supporters had Greenwood put on a Manchester United shirt again. These concerns may resurface in relation to Antony.
What is happening with Jadon Sancho and United?
The most recent problem for Manchester United stems from a player’s alleged sub-par performance, rather than behaviour away from the sport. After United’s loss to Arsenal on 3 September 2023, manager Erik Ten Hag told the media that Sancho had been excluded from the matchday squad because he had not trained to the requisite standard. In response Sancho took to social media site X, formerly Twitter, to say that Ten Hag’s comments were “completely untrue”.
The reaction amongst fans and pundits has been mixed. On the one hand, many football experts say that Ten Hag’s decision to axe Sancho from the first team squad and make him train alone is part and parcel of professional football. Many have in turn argued that the decision is unfair.
On the face of it, Sancho may have a case that he is being side-lined and marginalised by the club’s manager. Putting to one side Sancho’s post on social media, which has now been deleted, if he has been performing to the level required of him during training sessions then Ten Hag’s decision to banish the player from the team could be considered unfair and his conduct may amount to bullying. Refusing to let Sancho perform his core duties – playing for and training with the team – arguably amounts to a breach of trust and confidence, entitling Sancho to quit the club and claim he has been unfairly and wrongly dismissed. It seems highly unlikely Sancho will take this step, but it appears that the employment relationship between player and club is nearing its conclusion.
If Sancho and Ten Hag cannot resolve their dispute, perhaps through mediation, inevitably the player and club will decide that it will be in the best interests of all parties for Sancho to leave through a player a sale, possibly in January. While this situation is not as potentially damaging for the club as the Greenwood or Antony cases, it does represent another headache for its decision makers at the worst possible time.
Manchester United is one of the most famous football clubs in the world, and a multi-billion pound operation, all of which will be taken into consideration as it deals with Greenwood, Antony and (in very different circumstances) Sancho.
It appears that Manchester United decided that the potential reputational damage posed to the club would be too severe at least for Greenwood to return and a loan was seen as the best option for Greenwood and club. The Antony and Sancho cases remain very much up in the air, and it will be interesting to see how United manage them following the furore surrounding their handling of Mason Greenwood.
While it is not impossible that Greenwood returns to United at the end of the season and signs a new contract, that scenario appears highly unlikely and the allegations now brought against Antony have only intensified the risk faced by Manchester United should they attempt to move forward with either individual in the playing squad.
Whether any of the three players are at the club at the start of next season remains to be seen. I wouldn’t bet on it.
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