Manchester United face a huge decision over Mason Greenwood

<span>Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

After Mason Greenwood’s attempted rape and assault charges were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service on Thursday, what next for his Manchester United career?

The 21-year-old last pulled on a team jersey on 22 January 2022 at Old Trafford, in a 1-0 win over West Ham. He was arrested later that month, then, in October, charged with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He denied the charges.

Related: Prosecutors drop attempted rape case against Mason Greenwood

Greenwood, perhaps the most talented young footballer at United, has had more than a year out of the first-team picture and the squad may have mixed feelings about his return – should he do so.

Greenwood is an innocent man by law but United’s statement regarding his future shows there is no guarantee he will be welcomed back, despite being contracted until 2025 (the club has the option of another year) and a multimillion-pound asset.

It said: “Manchester United notes the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service that all charges against Mason Greenwood have been dropped. The club will now conduct its own process before determining next steps. We will not make any further comment until that process is complete.”

Greenwood will not return to training as the club seek to understand better the circumstances of the charges, in a process with no timeframe.

There is a moral dimension that the club, players and Erik ten Hag may wrestle with and the court of public opinion, which neither United nor Greenwood can affect. A sizeable constituency of fans who read about the case and heard the recordings and saw the videos that formed part of the evidence against him will have their own view.

This adds up to the latest challenge of Ten Hag’s nascent tenure. As his demotion of Cristiano Ronaldo as a first-team starter and his later exclusion of the Portuguese for walking out of October’s win over Tottenham illustrate, the manager can be decisive, shown too by his discarding of United’s captain, Harry Maguire, from the XI.

The Greenwood question is markedly different, though. And it is sure not to be solely Ten Hag’s call as the club considers its values, how the image of an institution should be perceived and commercial imperatives. Ten Hag’s decisions regarding Ronaldo (initially) and Maguire were sporting ones. Time had caught up with the 37-year-old and the centre-back’s pace is not up to what the manager requires.

A view outside Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium before a match last month.
A view outside Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium before a match last month. Photograph: Paul Currie/Rex/Shutterstock

There is zero doubt regarding Greenwood’s ability with a ball at his feet. At only 21 he could be a fixture for United for the next decade and more. But before Ten Hag – and the club – is a moral poser, and for United’s finance department and brand builders, how each of these could be affected if he is retained. Should he be retained Greenwood might have his own debate about how it will be to face the surely constant chants on every match day (for the foreseeable future, at least) aimed at him by opposition fans despite his case being dropped. If Greenwood is discarded by his boyhood club, the same equation comes wherever he lands at in Britain, so a move overseas could be explored.

How fit Greenwood will be if and when he returns is another issue, though not, primarily, with regard to being in the optimum physical state. That can be regained relatively simply via training and game time, but Greenwood’s frame of mind is unknown.

Whatever decision United take will send a message that will be received variously. Greenwood issued a statement: “I am relieved that this matter is now over and I would like to thank my family, loved ones and friends for their support. There will be no further comment at this time.”

Whether there will be any further playing time for United remains in the balance.

• In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at