As Manchester United begin pre-season training this week, questions remain over the future of Mason Greenwood.
Charges of attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and controlling and coercive behavior were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service in February this year. A nascent playing career put on hold after disrupting, in the words of Greater Manchester Police, “images and videos on online social media posted by a woman reporting incidents of physical violence”, could in theory now be resumed.
United can reintegrate the 21-year-old and make him available to manager Erik ten Hag if they wish.
A full England international with 35 goals for the club, Greenwood would be an in-house solution to a search for a striker that has so far been frustrated by the lack and huge cost of elite goalscorers in Europe, not to mention the club’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) obligations and an ownership situation with a need for clarity.
A loan move away from United has been mentioned as another option, with Italy repeatedly flagged as a potential destination.
Serie A has not always been the most scrupulous of leagues. Its clubs have signed sons of dictators and rehabilitated players caught up in match-fixing scandals. Recently, however, the Italian top flight has become more self-aware, more sensitive to its image and more targeted in the causes it promotes.
One of them is a collaboration with WeWorld non-profit organizationwhich seeks to raise awareness of violence against women.
Serie A has dedicated a matchday to the problem in each of the past six seasons. In February this year, players and referees took to the field with a line of red face paint on their cheeks, a symbol of such physical abuse. A video was also played on big screens in stadiums up and down the country and carried by the league’s domestic broadcast partners. It featured Italian World Cup winners Alessandro Del Piero and Marco Materazzi and Olympic athletes Elisa Di Francisca and Marta Pagnini, calling for violence against women to be shown the color red – and ostracized from society.
Serie A president Lorenzo Casini has declared his commitment to continue the work of predecessor Paolo Dal Pino, who introduced the partnership with WeWorld. “It’s important that we continue to raise as much awareness as we can about this tragic issue, not just today, not just on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but every day,” Casini said.
The statistics are alarming and demand attention.
Serie A’s partnership with WeWorld came to the fore in winter 2021, following an increase in violence against women during the Covid-19 lockdown. Calls to the 1522 helpline – a free, 24/7 service to help female victims of violence – increased by 119 percent per day, according to reports from ISTAT (the Italian National Statistics Institute).
“We are now aware that one in three women experience violence at least once in their lives,” explained Marco Chiesara, the president of WeWorld. “From our latest survey conducted with (market research firm) IPSOS, ‘The Culture of Violence’, we also now know that 70 percent of the women surveyed experienced some form of violence – verbal, physical or sexual harassment – at work ; that 40 percent experienced it in a family context or in a relationship and more than 50 percent on the street; Thirty-five percent of respondents who initially said they had never experienced violence later said they had experienced at least one form of harassment. Violence against women is a structural problem in our society. We’ve been saying that for years.”
Marchers calling for an end to femicide – the killing of women – underscore the outrage over reports such as one published by Italy’s interior ministry this time last year. The femicide shown had increased by 16 percent compared to the previous data set. There were 125 between August 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022.
Football in Italy has not been indifferent.
Napoli’s 2022-23 Scudetto-winning coach Luciano Spalletti often used his press conferences last season to highlight injustices and suffering.
He carried two roses and held a minute’s silence in memory of Mahsa Amini, who died last September after being taken into police custody by Iran’s morality police, sparking the protests that killed Hadis Najafi a day later. He poignantly asked fans attending Napoli’s final game of the season on June 4 to remember Giulia Tramontano, who was seven months pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend the previous week.
“They tell me she was a big Napoli fan,” Spalletti said. “When a man kills a woman, he kills many lives, not just one, because he kills her, her child, and all the other children she might have. Killing a woman kills life. With his evil, he has erased a history , who deserved to live.
“From this story, brutally rejected, we want you to have the image of a mother and a child walking hand in hand to Maradona (the club’s stadium) to support Napoli. It is an image we will never see . The celebration at tomorrow’s game will be a celebration of them. They will be there with each and every one of us. And to those who think they can solve things through violence, know that they are a loser without a future. They have no future.”
The sensitivity in Italy has continued to increase.
Second division Genoa, for example, was investigated for not immediately suspending midfielder Manolo Portanova last December after a court sentenced him to six years for a group sexual assault.
As a first instance decision, Portanova, which told the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera prior to the hearing, “I did not force the girl in the slightest, and neither did the others who were with me”, have the right to complain. Genoa, in a statement to the newspaper La Repubblica, he said: “That sentence is a unique case in the Italian football world. There is no precedent and we are investigating how to act on the assumption that this is the first degree of sentencing (there are three in the Italian legal system) and the presumption of innocence applies until the final judgment.”
Notably, Portanova has not played for Genoa since early December and when reports of a possible loan move to Serie B side Bari emerged in January, there was a backlash on social media.
Earlier this season, Bari club president Luigi De Laurentiis, who is the son of Napoli owner Aurelio, had announced an initiative to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in November. This saw the boys and girls in the club’s youth sector undergoing training “with the aim of providing them with all the information and tools necessary to understand, recognize and combat the phenomenon of violence and gender discrimination, bullying and cyberbullying”.
This is the current context in Italy and its football clubs have never been more adapted to it.
(Top photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)