Gary Neville says Manchester United’s handling of the Mason Greenwood investigation has been “pretty horrible” and lacked strong leadership.
It came after charges against the player, including attempted rape and assault, were dropped in February.
“It was clear from day one that he wouldn’t play for Manchester United again,” said former defender Neville.
Speaking on Sky Sports Monday Night Football, Neville, 48, who made 602 appearances for United, added: “The process in getting there has been pretty horrible. When you have significant situations, and difficult situations like this, it requires strong authoritative leadership. And that comes from the very top. Manchester United don’t have that.”
Fellow pundit and former England midfielder Karen Carney said the matter was “handled poorly” and it was a “really uneasy situation for me”.
England international Greenwood was arrested in January 2022 following allegations surrounding material which was published online.
In a statement, Greenwood accepted he had “made mistakes” and took his “share of responsibility”, but added: “I did not do the things I was accused of.”
United have said “based on the evidence available to us, we have concluded that the material posted online did not provide a full picture and that Mason did not commit the offences in respect of which he was originally charged”, adding: “All those involved, including Mason, recognise the difficulties with him recommencing his career at Manchester United.”
An announcement of the investigation’s results was expected before United’s opening Premier League game of the season against Wolves on 14 August, but the decision was delayed amid fierce debate about Greenwood’s potential reintegration at Old Trafford.
The club said they wanted to consult with their women’s team, some of whom were part of England’s World Cup squad playing in Australia, before announcing a decision about Greenwood’s future.
In an open letter to United supporters on Monday chief executive Richard Arnold said the club had “limited powers of investigation” and “were reliant on third-party co-operation” as they “sought to collate as much evidence as possible to establish facts and context”.
He added: “Reintegration was one of the outcomes we considered and planned for. For context, over the course of the past six months several outcomes have been contemplated and planned for, and my view has evolved as our process progressed.”
Carney, 36, who chaired a major review into the women’s game, added: “I think Manchester United as an institution, as football club and what is stands for, has handled this really really poorly.
“I think from statements, that have been confusing and conflicting to everybody. From leaks. From involving stakeholders unnecessarily. I.e. female players, our Lionesses.”
‘It should have been dealt with independently’
Greenwood’s potential return prompted a group of female United supporters to protest outside Old Trafford before the Wolves game on 14 August, and said they wanted the club to “demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach” towards violence against women.
Female Fans Against Greenwood’s Return put out a lengthy statement to say the striker’s reintegration would tell them “as women, that we don’t matter”.
Greenwood’s contract at Old Trafford runs until 2025, and he could now be sold or loaned to another club for the remainder of his deal. He remains on full pay but will not return to training with United.
Neville also claimed United should not have been in the situation where the were presiding over a matter where they did not possess the requisite experience, and called for the introduction of an independent panel for the future.
“On an issue like domestic abuse, on violence against women, there needs to be independence,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be that Manchester United are the judge and jury on such a significant issue. Not just for themselves, but also for the game. People talk about the reputation of Manchester United but it’s the Premier League here as well.
“My view is that on issues of this importance, and severity, they should be dealt with independently by a panel.
“It’s been clear that Manchester United have not had the skill and ability to deal with this situation properly. It’s been well above their grade of experience and ability.”
Sports lawyer Chris Farnell told BBC News: “Manchester United are damned if they did, and damned if they don’t.
“If they had done a quick analysis they would be told it should be more in depth. Because it’s been in depth it’s ‘taken too long’.
“I think the important thing is you have to look into the conclusions Manchester United have to come to and reasons behind it.”
Female Fans Against Greenwood’s Return told BBC Newsbeat: “This has now become one of the biggest talking points in football and I believe that this is going to be a bit of a litmus test that will set the standard for how other clubs deal with these issues in future.”
Andy Mitten, editor of United We Stand fanzine said on BBC 5 Live: “We also did a poll on United We Stand where 75% of fans did not want to see Mason Greenwood return to Old Trafford.
“So I think there would have been an even bigger backlash if Mason Greenwood would have been allowed to continue and play at Manchester United, so I think it’s sensible.”