Last August, I penned an article highlighting the fact that left-back Alex Greenwood’s move from Manchester United to European champions Lyon was a real blow ahead of The Red Devils’ debut campaign in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.
At the time, this was seen by me as a bit of a disaster, as Greenwood was by far our best player and someone who I believed would be leading Manchester United to the forefront of women’s football. Obviously, a lot has changed in the near year since Greenwood’s departure from Casey Stoney’s side, not only on the pitch but off it too.
While the world has always known it’s share of disasters and tragedies, I think it’s safe to say that no one could have expected this year to have turned out the way it has so far. Therefore maybe referring to something like a rumoured (or confirmed) football transfer as a ‘disaster’ might be ill-advised.
In spite of the fact that the top tiers of men’s football are continuing their seasons throughout this global pandemic let’s not kid ourselves, football is not ‘essential’ at this moment in time, no matter how it is being portrayed and promoted in the media. For that reason, I have found it hard to come up with something to write about football over the last few months. It just doesn’t seem that important at the moment.
With that said, Alex Greenwood’s departure from Manchester United hurt me. Greenwood had a connection with us as fans. We saw her as one of our own, even though we had banter with her about her Liverpudlian background and she also had high praise for us as a fanbase and for the club as a whole.
Before the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, Greenwood was quoted, like Siobhan Chamberlain, as saying that being at United brought back their love and passion for the game and they were grateful for it.
When she left, in spite of the pain, there was the part in me and other fans that tried to rationalise her decision, how could you begrudge her testing herself at the best football team in Europe, with some of the world’s best players? How could Manchester United, a massive club though it may be, compete with that offer, seeing as the women’s team had only just been reformed and was about to enter their first season in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League? Greenwood couldn’t be blamed for taking the opportunity when it came along.
In an interview in November with The Times, Greenwood confirmed this was part of her thought process. She said “I was so happy at United, it was the best year of my football career, so for me to leave something that wasn’t broken was difficult.
“I had everything I needed at United. When you are so happy somewhere you need to take that risk but breaking that happiness for something unknown scared me a little bit.
“At 26 was this opportunity going to come around again?”
Greenwood’s logic was sound but it seems that not everything perhaps has gone the way she would have liked at her new home.
Of Lyon’s 24 competitive matches before the season was abandoned, she had only appeared in 15 games. Crucially, she has yet to make an appearance in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, no doubt one of the enticing prospects of joining Lyon. In the four matches they have played so far in the tournament, Greenwood was an unused substitute three times. In another, she wasn’t even on the bench. She may yet make an appearance if and when the tournament resumes play in August.
It is evident from looking at those numbers that as opposed to her status as on and off-pitch leader for Manchester United, at Lyon Greenwood is just another player. A squad player that is fighting for minutes. From watching her play and knowing how important it is for her to push herself, especially in the attempt to make herself the undisputed left-back choice for England’s national team, this obviously hasn’t been the resounding success Greenwood perhaps dreamed of.
In the same interview with The Times, she mentioned the prospect of returning to the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.
“I knew at some point I could come back to England and maybe carry on where I left off” said Greenwood.
It seems though that this won’t exactly be the case and that her return may be sooner than expected.
As reported yesterday in The Telegraph it seems that Greenwood, along with Lucy Bronze, will be joining Manchester City rather than making a return to the red half of Manchester. Now it’s that time again to be balanced and logical. Manchester City are a better equipped team to win the league than United. They are an established force in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and if any team mounts a serious challenge in Europe from England, it will be one of the established ‘top three’ of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
United did very well to finish fourth in their debut season in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League but it has to be said that in terms of overall squad power, there are several key areas where they still need work. The final table shows that The Red Devils were the best of the rest, at least this season, but with further heartbreak in the two cup competitions against the established ‘top three’ and finishing well behind them in the league (13 points behind third-placed Arsenal), it’s clear that Casey Stoney’s side are still a work in progress. All signs point towards Greenwood taking another calculated risk in her attempt to play at a higher level. Fans aren’t the logical type though and football isn’t all about facts and figures, at least women’s football isn’t yet.
It hurts to know that last season we lost our captain. It hurts again knowing now that in all likelihood we will be playing against her when women’s football resumes. As a Manchester United fan, the club comes first every single time. ‘No person is bigger than the club’ is a mantra which Sir Alex Ferguson lived by. Greenwood might receive a few cheers upon her return to the Leigh Sports Village Stadium before and after the match. No doubt some will still ask for autographs and photos. For the 90 minutes though, she will be resoundingly booed and hounded by Manchester United fans and I can honestly say it pains me to have to do that.
Furthermore, there will be others who will be even more unforgiving and will turn their back on Greenwood from now on. I will try not to do that, out of respect for her involvement in United’s successful first season in the FA Women’s Championship. I admit though, it’s hard not to be ruled by emotion in this case and it feels like Greenwood has turned on the fans that loved her so much. It’s a shame. It’s not a disaster though. United will go on. I hope that in the near future we can all return to a time when football is what matters to us most.