Did the new co-owner of Manchester United pledge to bring back a controversial footballer to the club?

By February 22, 2024 Lifestyle, Society

We came across a claim on Facebook about English football juggernaut, Manchester United, and the plans of one of their new co-owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, to bring back controversial footballer Mason Greenwood.

The Facebook page, which has 62,000 followers, claims that the club plans to bring in four players and reintegrate Greenwood, as they look to build for next season. In particular, it appears to directly quote Ratcliffe explicitly stating that Greenwood, who is currently on a season-long loan at Spanish club Getafe, will be a part of their plans next season.


Why is Greenwood’s potential return controversial?

Mason Greenwood was suspended by Manchester United in January 2022 after videos and audio clips of him committing physical abuse on his partner, Harriet Robson, surfaced on social media. He was charged with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour, and assault in October 2022. These criminal charges were dropped in February 2023.

While the charges were dropped, there was universal fan backlash on how Manchester United handled the investigations and interim plans to reintegrate Greenwood after the charges were dropped. As a result, Manchester United released a statement in August 2023 stating that the player and the club “recognise the difficulties with him recommencing his career” at the club, and Greenwood would not be playing for Manchester United. Greenwood was then loaned to the Spanish club, Getafe.

The abovementioned claim comes less than 24 hours after Sir Jim Ratcliffe was officially announced as a co-owner of Manchester United on 20 February 2024. Sir Ratcliffe’s arrival has been seen by the fans as “a turning point” for the club and a potential new dawn of success after feeling neglected and ignored by their previous sole owners, the Glazer family.

Hence, the potential links between Ratcliffe’s reign and Greenwood’s return cast doubts on whether this alleged new direction may be aligned with the interests of the fans, and could even be a step backward.


Is Greenwood part of Ratcliffe’s plans?

Upon further research, we discovered that claims of Sir Ratcliffe’s interest in a Greenwood return have surfaced on YouTube videos. However, while the videos’ titles claim to be interviews, these videos do not contain direct references or sound bites from Ratcliffe. Rather, voiceovers from these videos appear computer-generated, with sweeping claims rather than tangible sources of evidence.

There have been rumours cited in multiple sources in the UK stating that Ratcliffe is planning a clear-out in the summer, in an attempt to revitalise the squad, with “outcast” Greenwood being one of the assets that could, potentially, bring decent revenue, given he has a list of admirers in Spain. In addition, according to sources in Germany, Ratcliffe and his advisors have identified Bayern Munich’s young French starlet, Mathys Tel, as a potential arrival, who would be seen as a replacement for Greenwood.

Moreover, Ratcliffe has stated that a fresh decision about Greenwood’s future in the club will be made although there is currently no resolution on this matter.

Hence, while it will be difficult to confirm his position until a sale is finally made, the claim that Ratcliffe has pledged to bring back Greenwood is likely false.

Why does it matter?

A recent article by the reputable sports journalism outlet The Athletic highlights the scale of disinformation in football, using Manchester United as a case study.

In particular, journalists from the platform tracked down the owners of two social media accounts who had deliberately spread fake news about the club. These pages acted as ‘aggregators’, resharing content from other websites and, to some degree, sensationalising the content to get more clicks. They saw the creation of clickbait, unverified social media posts as a lucrative business opportunity, even though they were fans of the football club.

When we expanded the search to YouTube, the potential reach and impact of these videos became more evident. A quick search of the keywords “Sir Jim Ratcliffe” and “Mason Greenwood” generated two clickbait thumbnails within the first 10 search results, with each video having roughly 248,000 and 39,000 views respectively.

What becomes more startling when we look at the article by The Athletic is the lack of remorse by these propagators of disinformation. The two profiles interviewed were unrepentant about circulating rumours they knew to be fake, for the sake of driving engagement and views to their pages.

Although this case study is about sports, we can see the dangers of disinformation on full display – how these rumours can destabilise support for a new regime, and sow seeds of discontent among their supporters.

To some, the dangers of fake news might become more relatable in the less complicated medium of sport, compared to other pertinent realms like health, government policy, and the environment. Therefore, highlighting examples like this particular case study could also help to educate more people, in particular youths, on the dangers of fake news.

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