A new season dawns at Manchester United, but there remains an uncomfortable question hanging over the club.

The seemingly endless takeover process has commanded the lion’s share of headlines, the precariousness of the situation pulling a fanbase back and forth between optimism over what Erik ten Hag can achieve in his second season, and trepidation over just what the Glazers have planned for United’s future.

But as players begin to trickle back through the doors of Carrington today, there is another source of lingering uncertainty surrounding an individual who will not be among them. It has been seven months since United suspended Mason Greenwood pending an internal investigation that followed criminal charges of attempted rape, assault causing actual bodily and engaging in coercive and controlling behaviour, with the alleged offences all involving the same woman.

The Crown Prosecution Service then dropped all charges against Greenwood in February when the woman reconsidered giving evidence, and the prosectuion case collapsed. A CPS statement said that the key witness withdrawal ensured there was ‘no longer a realistic prospect of conviction’.

For some, a cohort which seems disturbingly comprised largely of young men on social media, this should have been enough for Greenwood to be ushered back through the door to continue what had been a career of enormous promise. But, regardless of the case not moving to trial, the highly disturbing audio recordings and graphic images released on social media around the time of Greenwood’s arrest will never go away.

He has never denied that it is his voice on the harrowing files. His only public comment on the matter was a short statement which followed the CPS dropping charges against him, insisting he was ‘relieved that this matter is now over’ before thanking ‘family, loved ones and friends for their support’.

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Given how widely the recordings have circulated and the level of national news coverage of the story, it feels unimaginable that this thoroughly grim episode does not follow Greenwood for at least the rest of his career. For that reason, and a number of others, it is extremely difficult to see how he could ever pull on a Manchester United shirt ever again. What kind of message would re-integrating Greenwood send to United’s young fans, to the women’s team they have invested so readily in over recent years, with some members of the squad reportedly ‘deeply uncomfortable’ at the prospect of a return?

Even if Old Trafford’s power brokers conclude that said return is morally justifiable, there is the considerable risk that their commercial partners do not agree. For a club which has long stood accused of being more interested in building a brand than winning trophies, that will hold considerable weight. Nike have already severed ties with Greenwood, and there is the possibility major brands associated with United would not want to be linked with him. It would, quite simply, be a public relations nightmare. There would be serious and sustained questioning of the decision, much of which would fall upon manager Erik ten Hag.

Ten Hag has done much to reunify a fractured club, delivering a first trophy since 2017 and qualifying for the Champions League after inheriting what could only be described as a shambles last summer. The team he has built – and is still building – have reconnected with a disaffected fanbase and there is considerable scope to continue to grow relations and deliver success. Throwing Greenwood into that mix, after all that has transpired, makes little sense.

So, it begs the question: why is it taking United so long to make a decision? Greenwood was arrested in October last year, suspended in January but since then the situation has, in public at least, seemingly been in stasis. Of course, such an investigation is time consuming and there are various legal considerations to be taken into account, but there has been the occasional drip feed of potential outcomes into the media that suggests United wish to gauge the reaction to various different scenarios.

One such option, reported by The Athletic in March, is  Greenwood conducting a TV interview as part of a ‘phased return’ amid an extensive programme of rehabilitation. Last month, the Daily Mail stated that an increasingly preferred course of action was to loan the forward to a club in Europe for the entirety of next season. What either option would achieve is unclear: aside from those who already clamouring for his immediate return, how many people would realistically be won over by an attempted explanation? If United send him abroad for a year, is anyone going to have forgotten about it come 2024? Almost certainly not, which raises the prospect that a season on-loan to drum up interest in a full sale could be on the cards.

But ask yourself this, had a member of United’s office staff – or even a fringe player – found themselves in this same situation, do you really think they would remain under contract? Without being privy to the inner workings of the internal investigation, it would be unfair to make too strong an inference about what United are leaning towards, but it seems obvious that the fact Greenwood is a potentially world class footballer who could score goals and make the club a fortune over the next 10 years means the rules here are different. However, the potential for seismic repercussions and the alienation of all manner of stakeholders surely mean even that aspect has its limits.  

With the new campaign fast approaching, Ten Hag himself will  want a resolution before long, lest it become an increasingly unwelcome sideshow to what will be a hugely important season for United. Questions will no doubt be asked in upcoming media engagements. The manager’s pursuit of Atalanta striker Rasmus Hojland – a year younger than Greenwood – may suggest that there is no imminent re-integration on the horizon, but the longer this remains unanswered the more it will begin to feel as though United are delaying an outcome to leave for any potential new owners to deal with.

That would be a major early test for any new regime, and also a chance to show supporters what their vision is for a modern-day United. But with the takeover saga showing no signs of imminent conclusions, supporters and club employees surely deserve an answer before then.