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RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Why Manchester United must NOT bring Mason Greenwood back – and the six letter word that will follow him everywhere


The finer arts of lip reading are a little lost on me, so I was grabbed by a comment on MailOnline a couple of weeks ago. It came from Jeremy Freeman and he has credibility in that field — he said he was 97 per cent confident Jude Bellingham called Mason Greenwood a ‘rapist’ during Real Madrid’s win at Getafe earlier this month.

An interesting number, that one. It is rather precise and it does make you tangentially curious about where the increments lie. How much is the R worth? And the P? How much of the missing three per cent is attributed to not quite detecting the T? But then again, Freeman mentioned context and context counted in his reasoning.

We all know the Greenwood context, of course. You know it. I know it. Sir Jim Ratcliffe knows it. Away with the fairies and suckling themselves fat on someone else’s cash, the Glazers know it too. 

Everyone knows Greenwood was charged with attempted rape and everyone knows the case collapsed when key witnesses withdrew. We therefore know he is innocent within the definitions of law and we also know public opinion operates with fewer limitations, because by now most of us know about those horrific recordings.

If the lip-readers are right, we can assume Bellingham is across the gist of it. Did he call Greenwood a rapist in that game? I don’t have the skills to go as high as 97 per cent on that one, but I would safely enter the bidding at 100 if I had to predict how crowds over here will chant if Greenwood shows face at Manchester United again.

Mason Greenwood joined Getafe on loan in the summer after Manchester United strongly suggested he would not play for the club again following charges of assault against him

Mason Greenwood joined Getafe on loan in the summer after Manchester United strongly suggested he would not play for the club again following charges of assault against him 

New United part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has left the door open for Greenwood to return to the club this summer, despite backlash from fans when this was contemplated last year

New United part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has left the door open for Greenwood to return to the club this summer, despite backlash from fans when this was contemplated last year

A lip-reading expert said he was '97% sure' Jude Bellingham (right) called Greenwood a 'rapist' when Getafe faced Real Madrid earlier this month

A lip-reading expert said he was ‘97% sure’ Jude Bellingham (right) called Greenwood a ‘rapist’ when Getafe faced Real Madrid earlier this month 

That’s a sure thing. It’s the six-letter stench that will follow him to every game and every ground. It will cling to United like a green cloud, surrounded by flies. And being a smart man, Ratcliffe is well aware of that, which is why I was a caught out by his comments on the subject this week. 

Whereas the club have previously given guidance that Greenwood would never again play for United, Ratcliffe was more ambiguous and that felt like a misstep to an otherwise strong start.

‘There is no decision that’s been made,’ he said, and one can understand the business complexities of that call when the player still retains a considerable financial value to his club. We might also see the merit in not showing your hand before negotiations with potential buyers this summer.

But surely United will not, and must not, countenance the idea of bringing Greenwood back, because that would be a Glazer line of thinking. That would be a classic from the Glazer book of blunders.

We are aware through detailed reporting how close they and the club’s senior executives came to letting him return before catching the whiff of a public backlash and then flip-flopping to a loan evacuation. 

That was the Glazers’ United in a nutshell — weak, immoral, nose in the money trough, incapable of recognising just how grim the place was looking until it smacked them in the face.

But Ratcliffe has typically positioned himself as the opposite of the Glazers. He won’t say so explicitly because, as he reminds us, there is a legal document in his bottom drawer that prevents mud-slinging. 

But he has done so in ways that are subtle and also incredibly obvious. In words and deeds, his approach through this acquisition process has been to study the Glazers and set a course for 180 degrees the other way. Again, clever guy.

Greenwood has been in excellent form for Getafe, scoring seven goals in 24 games

Greenwood has been in excellent form for Getafe, scoring seven goals in 24 games

Greenwood was arrested in January 2022 and charged with attempted rape, engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour and assault

Greenwood was arrested in January 2022 and charged with attempted rape, engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour and assault

Greenwood denied all the allegations and the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges in February last year

Greenwood denied all the allegations and the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges in February last year 

So far it’s mostly easy to be impressed. I liked the way he spoke in the week about knocking Manchester City off their perches and bringing back a bit of style — playing a bit of Alex Ferguson bingo will always play well to the gallery. 

Pointing to 11 years of ‘misery’ was also delightfully candid. As was the admission of his ‘stupid mistakes’ in other sporting projects and his dismissal of the United museum as ‘crap’. His messaging was simple — United are now on the way back and they are coming for you.

It all has the ring of a fresh start for the club, a new era where the man in charge doesn’t hide away from interviews for a decade, and whether you support United or not, the Premier League will be more energised if they are competitive again. With Ratcliffe involved, that is considerably more likely to happen.

Naturally, it’s only words and slogans for now, the pursuit of easy wins in the hearts-and-minds game before the real business. But it is refreshing to see a United frontman capable of burying open goals, even if we all know the substance will come from actions.

So far they have been encouraging — the noises around redeveloping Old Trafford are promising (discounting some of the nonsense about getting tax payers to foot some of the bill) and ditto the landing of Omar Berrada and the pursuit of Dan Ashworth. 

Erik ten Hag was understood to be open to the idea of bringing Greenwood back, when United discussed his future in a private investigation last year

Erik ten Hag was understood to be open to the idea of bringing Greenwood back, when United discussed his future in a private investigation last year

Ratcliffe's comments have seemingly opened the door to a shock return

Ratcliffe’s comments have seemingly opened the door to a shock return 

The INEOS boss has also been outspoken on the need to renovate Old Trafford

The INEOS boss has also been outspoken on the need to renovate Old Trafford 

Ratcliffe suggested United may need to knock down their historic ground and build a new one

Ratcliffe suggested United may need to knock down their historic ground and build a new one

Those moves indicate they are finally grasping the necessity to focus on football and improve recruitment — it is difficult to imagine either of those individuals seeing merit in the vanity signing of Cristiano Ronaldo a few years ago. That was the Glazers United of the quick fix; now they seem to have a vaguely sensible approach to structure and construction and environment.

If they get it right, the timing could be perfect — Jurgen Klopp is about to fly off the Liverpool perch. There are 115 reasons why City might lose balance on theirs and then there’s the question of whether Pep Guardiola will still be there beyond the expiration of his contract in 2025. 

Put another way, this is comfortably the point of greatest optimism at United since Ferguson retired.

It’s a time when Financial Fair Play is driving Newcastle to exasperation and when giant clubs with the greatest turnover ought to be able to motor into the distance.

If Ratcliffe’s United play their hand right, they have a huge amount to gain in the coming years. Doing so to the ambient chorus of ‘rapist’ would be the kind of error they should now be beyond making.

Joe Hart’s spell at Celtic is the perfect end to his career

With Joe Hart’s announcement this week that he will retire at the end of the season, my mind went back to 2016 and a trip to Turin. He had just been loaned to Torino by Manchester City at the start of his wilderness period and one answer to a loaded question at his unveiling stood out.

He was asked for the best quality in a goalkeeper and Hart managed to say a lot in a short response: ‘Keeping the ball out of the net.’

Joe Hart will retire at the end of the season after a successful spell at Celtic

Joe Hart will retire at the end of the season after a successful spell at Celtic

Hart used to do that bit magnificently and perhaps that has been a little forgotten in latter years. His performance in City’s 1-0 defeat at Barcelona in 2015 must rank among the finest shot-stopping displays of recent years – another goalkeeper might have played well and conceded eight that night.

But he was never quite as hot with his distribution and Pep Guardiola wanted a sweeper-keeper, so the rest is history. City would eventually sign Ederson, who has been immense, and Hart drifted to four clubs in five years, including two seasons where he didn’t play a single league game. 

I’m glad he has been able to have a successful second act at Celtic because, irrespective of how the game has changed, he earned the right to go out on his feet.



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