MANCHESTER – A year after his arrest, Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood is free to resume a soccer career that looked set to make him one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Where he goes from here, however, is unknown.
The 21-year-old Greenwood, who also played for England's national team, had charges of attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service this week.
While he is likely to be eager to resume playing after 12 months out of action, United says he will have to wait a little longer.
On Thursday, United said it would “conduct its own process before determining next steps.”
No timeframe has been put on that undertaking and Greenwood is not expected to return to training or be considered for selection until it is concluded.
“I can’t say anything about it," United manager Erik ten Hag said Friday. "I refer to the statement of the club and, at this moment, I can’t add anything.”
United is one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world, with billions of fans and commercial deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The decision about how to handle Greenwood is likely to be about more than just soccer, with the club’s image and commercial appeal also under consideration.
On the field, Ten Hag would benefit from a player with the potential to be a key figure for both his club and his national team.
“He’s a special talent, a special kid that we are going to look after and try to develop into a top, top player,” former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in 2020.
By that stage, at the age of 18, Greenwood had already broken into the first team and, blessed with explosive pace, was scoring regularly. He earned comparisons with United great Wayne Rooney and looked destined to become the club’s next icon.
At a time when Ten Hag is in the market for a replacement for departed striker Cristiano Ronaldo, Greenwood would be an ideal contender and was already being considered as United’s long-term center forward.
That bright future was brought to an abrupt halt last January when images and videos on social media led to his arrest and subsequent suspension by United.
The charges were dropped because "a combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light meant there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction,” the Crown Prosecution Service said, adding that it had “a duty to keep cases under continuous review.”
While prosecutors accepted the case against Greenwood had to be discontinued, the posts on social media that led to his arrest were widely viewed and heard. That could have an impact on United’s reputation and brand if he plays for them again.
Sportswear giant Nike, which said it was “deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations,” ended its sponsorship deal with Greenwood last year.
Because of the nature of the charges, consideration may also be given to the number female fans the club has and a recently-formed women’s team that is growing in popularity.
“We, as a society, must work together to show women that they will be heard, believed and helped. Nothing should deter a woman from reporting sexual and domestic abuse,” said Farah Nazeer, chief executive of anti-domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
Greenwood may determine his career would be better served by having a fresh start away from United, perhaps in another country. He is likely to be a target for opposition fans, especially if he remains in England, which could affect his form and development as he attempts to rebuild his career.
Greenwood is free to play again, but his career path looks far from straightforward.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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