Antony and Player X: Football’s blurred priorities when it comes to accusations of offences against women

At this stage, it is too early to know what is going to happen to Antony or when Manchester United might emerge from this seemingly endless churn of headline after headline, ordeal after ordeal, that has the rest of football rubbernecking in their direction.

But we know roughly what occurs next. Antony will fly back to Manchester. It is quite conceivable, given the seriousness of the allegations, that the police intend to bring him in for questioning. He may be arrested. United have already faced calls to suspend their player and the volume will go up again if they decide to keep him, an alleged woman-beater, in the team.

So, yes, nobody should be too surprised if United decide there is too much heat and that they need to remove him from the public eye.

Brazil’s football federation has already decided Antony should not be allowed to wear the team’s colours while the allegations are hanging over him. A third woman has just gone public and, though Antony denies what is being said about him, there is a whole heap of pressure on United after everything that happened in the Mason Greenwood case. Put bluntly, they cannot mess this one up.

(Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The lesson of recent history shows that might happen, though, and that the football industry, as a whole, seems to operate with blurred priorities when it comes to players who have been accused of violent or sexual offences against women.

Did Manchester City suspend Benjamin Mendy when he was arrested in November 2020 on suspicion of rape? No, they kept him in a team that finished the season with the Premier League title. The story of his arrest was kept a secret inside the club. So Mendy retained his place, collected his championship medal and was championed by Pep Guardiola until the France international was charged with multiple offences in August 2021, at which point City suspended him.

Hypothetical, perhaps, but just imagine the questions that City would have encountered if Mendy had been found guilty rather than, as happened, being cleared at two criminal trials when Guardiola’s eulogies (“special guy … much beloved … incredible heart”) did not entirely match some of the details presented to the juries. At the very least, it was a big gamble on City’s part.

Another Premier League club, meanwhile, has routinely fielded a rape suspect who has been the subject of a police investigation lasting over a year.



A year since Player X was arrested for rape: Why is decision taking so long? What now?

That player, with three different accusers, has been involved in some big games in front of packed stadiums and television audiences of millions — and yet, in another sense, he remains invisible.

Legally, his identity cannot be reported because he has never been charged and, unlike Antony, he has not chosen to make a public denial. As a result, it becomes a lot easier for the player’s club to keep selecting him. Nothing is ever mentioned when he appears on television, because how can it be? Nobody made it a huge issue when he played for his country in the World Cup.

The media cannot report anything — his team, nationality, his age, his position — that might lead to the player’s identification. So he continues to be picked on the basis that he might help his team win three points on Saturday afternoon and it is easier for a football club to apply the innocent-until-proven-guilty rule when, media-wise, it is impossible to have that debate. Not properly, anyway.

His manager is never asked about it in news conferences because that would mean revealing the player’s name. It is a legal minefield and, as such, it rarely gets pointed out that, in virtually every other walk of life, an employer would usually be expected to suspend a member of staff who is being investigated as an alleged rapist.



Premier League player accused of rape has bail extended until August

As The Athletic reported in July, a leading figure in Premier League football is being investigated over separate allegations of non-recent sexual offences, including the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl. He, too, cannot be named and the legal restrictions mean there has been only a fraction of the coverage that might have been expected otherwise.

Unfortunately for United, they do not have the same comfort blanket of anonymity when everything has been so public with Antony. They didn’t have it with Greenwood either and, if Antony does not realise it already, he will soon find out that the media’s glare is seldom fiercer than when it is fixed on Old Trafford and one of the club’s big-money players.

With Greenwood, there was a thick portfolio of evidence to suggest the complexities of his case were beyond United’s expertise, even before the late volte-face that saw the people at the top of the club abandon plans to re-integrate him into Erik ten Hag’s team.

It was, in Gary Neville’s words, “above their grade of experience and ability”. But it was actually worse than that and no surprise whatsoever, in this world of spin and troubleshooting, that United had someone in Spain this week to help choreograph the PR blitz for Getafe’s new loan signing.

It seemed to work, too. Kids were photographed wearing Greenwood’s name emblazoned across the back of their shirts. Their new hero waved to the crowd. No questions were permitted and, with the wave of a conjuror’s wand, the narrative was formed of a misunderstood family man who had been found innocent — the more they say this, the more they actually seem to believe it — of everything that was alleged against him.

Back in Manchester, meanwhile, United must feel almost envious about the clubs that can take shelter behind the UK’s privacy laws.

At one stage last year, six of the 20 Premier League clubs employed footballers who were being investigated by the police for offences against women or, in a case that has now been dropped, unlawful sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16.

United, however, are the only club where two players have been named and, right from the outset, both stories have gone viral. Every decision since then has been scrutinised, every move picked apart to a level that just has not happened in the cases where the players (and clubs) cannot be identified. It doesn’t change the fact that United’s handling of the Greenwood case looked amateurish and accident-prone, but it is a form of mitigation.

What it also tells us is how attitudes have changed over the years and how, even in a relatively short space of time, there is an expectation for a club of United’s size and stature to take stronger action than used to be the case.

When Nicky Butt was charged in 2019 with assaulting his estranged wife, you might have assumed the club would have suspended him from his position as head of academy. Instead, Butt continued as normal for a period of months while waiting to stand trial and, looking back over the media coverage of the time, there was no real pressure for United to change that stance.

Butt, a six-time Premier League winner from Sir Alex Ferguson’s time as manager, denied the allegations and the trial was eventually dropped.

brown city united scaled

Nicky Butt (left) in action for Manchester United (Ross Kinnaird/Allsport)

Then consider the time, in 2007, when Jonny Evans was arrested on suspicion of rape at the club’s Christmas party. Again, it was a big story. Yet Evans was not suspended and continued to play on loan for Sunderland when, returning to the current day, that would have troubled many people. The police investigation lasted three months, resulting in a file being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, but Evans was told he would not face charges.

In Antony’s case, his former girlfriend, Gabriela Cavallin, alleges she was assaulted on a number of occasions over a period of 11 months.

A second woman by the name of Rayssa de Freitas is reported to have filed a police complaint in Brazil, claiming she needed hospital treatment after being attacked in the player’s car. The latest allegations are made by a third woman, Ingrid Lana, who claims on Brazilian television that Antony pushed her against a wall and tried to have sex with her at his house on the outskirts of Manchester last October.

All three cases are being played out through the media and, regardless of Antony’s denials, the fact it is happening so publicly makes it feel increasingly difficult for Ten Hag to involve him when they resume Premier League action at home to Brighton next weekend.

The alternative is that they try to see it out but, to go back to the earlier point, that becomes a lot more difficult when United, being United, attract so much attention.

“We’re front page, back page, middle page, in the comic strip, the lot,” Ferguson once said. “In a strange way, it’s fantastic for us that this attention falls on our club. We are the biggest club ever, on the planet, the universe. Remember that.”

It was a good quote (Roy Keane had just been sacked for daring to criticise some of his team-mates on the club’s television channel). But it is also true that every player representing “the biggest club ever” is meant to behave a certain way and, on reflection, Keane’s behaviour can seem trivial compared to some of the modern-day cases that have left Ten Hag’s United looking vulnerable in full view of everyone.

(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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