If United are so convinced that Greenwood “did not commit the acts he was charged with”, to quote Arnold, why are they not showing some backbone and standing by the striker, which seemed to be the plan before they got spooked by the outcry? If they were that sure about the findings of their investigation, why the about-turn? Instead, we have an opaque situation where it seems improbable Greenwood will play for the club again but not impossible.
The reality of the post-Ferguson United is that the club are very good at saying they will do one thing and working towards that but then changing tack, often at the last minute and invariably under pressure.
The Glazers and Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, played a central role in the ESL plot but crumbled the moment they were rumbled. The Greenwood case, it should be stressed, could not be more different in its nature to the ESL situation. But comparisons will inevitably be made about a club again lacking the courage of their convictions or, perhaps more pertinently, pursuing a course that plenty inside the club considered deeply flawed or were affronted by.
Even on simpler matters, it is easy to understand why fans get so frustrated. Take the previous summer’s transfer window. United were working to roughly four criteria. They would only pursue players who wanted to come to the club, there was a “no d——–” policy, players in their 30s wanting big contracts would be given a wide berth and they absolutely would not be held to ransom. But look what transpired?
They spent around 14 weeks chasing a player (Frenkie de Jong) who did not want to come and ended up instead signing 30-year-old Casemiro on a hefty four year contract for up to £70 million. Great player, no doubt, but not exactly part of the original plan and a talented if expensive sticking plaster.
The insistence on pursuing certain types of characters threatened to be challenged when United began moves to sign Marko Arnautovic (who also happened to be 33) only to back away following a backlash from fans over a racial slur the Austrian is alleged to have made in the past. Consequently, United ended up caving into Ajax’s demands by spending £85 million on Antony, the Brazil winger the club had initially valued at around £55 million.
So flip-flopping is something United have done well under the Glazers and is something organisations always run the risk of when there is an absence of leadership from the very top.
Insofar as the Greenwood case is concerned, Arnold chose to lead on the process, with Joel Glazer, the lesser spotted co-chairman, kept in the loop and consulted at different junctures.
As long as the Glazers remain, United will get more wrong than right
Greenwood had initially been arrested only 48 hours before Arnold formally took over as chief executive from Ed Woodward on February 1 last year and the case always threatened to be the biggest challenge of his leadership.
Arnold has done much to improve strained relations between the club and fans and has sought to empower department heads with a view to creating more of a challenge culture. In a change from the Woodward years, he has also given much greater autonomy on football matters to the football department, over which Ten Hag now exerts huge control.
But the Greenwood saga has not reflected well on the chief executive, even if it cannot be easy for any senior employee working under the Glazers.
The critics will wonder if United would have gone to the same lengths had the player in question not been a generational talent who occupies a position where United are currently weakest. Staff have – and still are – asking why the process took so long. And United’s repeat insistence about “facts and context” sits a little uncomfortably given they were unable to speak to the alleged victim during five months of inquiries and drew heavily on engagement with the complainant’s mother and Greenwood’s own version of events to establish a picture of what went on.
As long as the Glazers remain at Old Trafford, the club will continue to get a lot more wrong than they get right.