The managing director of Manchester United’s charity arm has come under fire after joking with Alessia Russo that he wouldn’t hand over her Women’s Player of the Year trophy because she was ‘too heavy’.
Russo was named the winner of the award at the club’s end-of-season awards ceremony on Monday night after a stellar season in which she scored 12 goals in all competitions.
However, there was an awkward moment when she was on stage with Manchester United Foundation chief executive John Shiels.
In a video shared on social media, Shiels said: “I’m not going to give this trophy to Alessia because it’s so heavy.”
Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves, who was hosting the ceremony, quickly followed up: “I’m sure you (Russo) can take it with pleasure, can’t you?
Alessia Russo (left) was named Man United Player of the Year on Monday night – with the award being presented by the club’s foundation chief executive John Shiels (right)
Shiels came under fire on social media after joking with Russo that he wouldn’t present the award because it was “too heavy”.
As Shiels then passed the trophy to Russo, Shreeves continued, “John, I think you need to do more bodybuilding, it’s not that heavy.”
Shiels’ comments drew criticism from social media users who said Russo looked “uncomfortable” over the comments.
Conor Roberts tweeted: “Second hand embarrassment over this. Alessia looks so uncomfortable and embarrassed.
“Unfortunately, there are still people who treat female athletes differently. Such a pointless comment to make.
Matt Johnson in response, wrote: “Casual sexism at a time when it should be celebrated. Such a bad way to treat our own player.
@Kazfootie commented: “These are our players…we should protect them without adding to the misogyny and sexist comments they already have to live with.”
While another person tweeted: “Awkward. You can clearly see how uncomfortable Alessia is with her ‘joke’.
One user praised Russo for the way she handled the comment, saying: ‘Yikes. She handled it so well. But what a waste.
Social media users said Russo looked “uncomfortable and embarrassed” by the comments – while Shiels continued to hand the Man United star the trophy.
Alessia Russo was named Manchester United Player of the Year on Monday night
After a tenure in charge of Manchester United’s football schools, Shiels took on the role of CEO of the Manchester United Foundation in 2008.
Shiels received an MBE in the Late Queen’s Birthday Honors List in 2021 after decades of service to young people.
Manchester United stars dressed to impress as they walked the red carpet for the club’s season-ending ceremony on Monday night.
The Red Devils and their partners were spotted in suits and boots as they celebrated their 2022-23 campaign for their senior and academy sides.
Numerous awards were handed out in the evening as the Red Devils teams – men’s, women’s and academy – celebrated their 2022-23 campaigns.
Rashford won the Men’s Player of the Year and Player of the Year awards, while Antony’s strike at home to Barcelona won the Goal of the Season award.
Hannah Blundell won Women’s Player of the Year while Russo’s away goal at Arsenal was awarded as the best strike.
In the academy, Kobbie Mainoo won the Jimmy Murphy award, Dan Gore picked up the Denzil Haroun award, Holly Deering won the Young Player of the Year award and Bella Reidford won the Player of the Year award.
The Red Devils have also launched the first Fan Award named after the late Ian Stirling and confirmed it will be a permanent feature of their end-of-season awards.
In a statement, Shiels apologized for his remarks. “Last night I had the honor of presenting Alessia Russo with the Women’s Goal of the Season award at Manchester United’s end-of-season awards ceremony,” he said.
“I made a comment about the weight of the trophy which I know offended. I am mortified by this and want to apologize to Alessia, her teammates and anyone else offended.
“I alerted Alessia to the weight of the trophy because I was shocked at how heavy it was and would have done the same if presented to a male player. I just didn’t want her to let it go. However, on reflection, I can see why the comment was misinterpreted.
“Empowering women is at the heart of Manchester United Foundation’s work in our local community, with nearly 10,000 girls and young women taking part in our programs each year.
“I am proud of this work and overwhelmed that my remarks have distracted from the fantastic accomplishments of Alessia and the women’s team this season.”