EPL

Dan Ashworth admits Sandro Tonali ban caught Newcastle by surprise

By Sports Desk November 03, 2023

Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth admits the investigation into Sandro Tonali has been “a whirlwind” and a “massive shock” following the midfielder’s ban from football.

Just before the Magpies’ trip to Wolves last Saturday, the Italian was handed a 10-month ban by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) – which was subsequently ratified by FIFA after he agreed a plea bargain as part of an investigation into illegal betting activity.

Tonali found himself at the centre of the investigation during last month’s international break and Ashworth revealed how quickly it unfolded.

“It was a massive shock, a massive surprise. Dealing with it was new to all of us. It came from nowhere,” he said.

“We first became aware of it when was there a potential allegation on social media. I spoke with his representatives and it just happened really quickly.

“Our first thought was to protect our player, he is part of our family, and to give him the help and support he needed. We wanted to understand exactly what had happened and work transparently with the authorities.

“Sandro wanted to do that from the off as well. It was a bit of a whirlwind really. We got to where we were on Friday (before the Wolves game) where the ban had been signed off and agreed with the Italian federation, FIFA and our own Football Association.”

The ban means that Tonali, who arrived on Tyneside from AC Milan for £55million in the summer, will not be eligible to return to competitive action until August 27, 2024 and Ashworth knows he will be a big miss to the squad.

“Like any player we will miss him of course, he is a top player and a big signing. To contextualise it, it could have been an ACL,” Ashworth said.

“These things happen in football, but obviously when it happens in this context it’s not something you expect. For me, from the minute it happened, you look at yourself.

“What could we have done better? What could I have done better? What are the lessons learned from this? Could we have known? Should we have known? You look at your processes.

“I’ve been doing this for 16 years and nothing like this has happened before. We pride ourselves on due diligence and getting the right characters.

“You have all seen the culture and cohesion in the group is extremely strong, and that’s not by chance.

“We spend an immense amount of time looking at the character as well as the athlete. We have and will continue to review what we have done in the past and will do going forward.”

In addition to his ban, Tonali was fined 20,000 euros and will undergo eight months of therapy as well as carrying out a series of public appearances and manager Eddie Howe confirmed that the 23-year-old is in training.

In his Friday press conference, Howe said: “(Tonali) is training with us and he’s started that lonely – I say lonely, he’s around his team-mates – but we’re playing so many games at the moment that a lot of his sessions will be individual or small numbers.

“He’s started that journey into the 10 months so it’s going to be a real mental test for him to try and come through that period and become a better player, which is definitely our objective as coaches to try and help him.

“It’s going to be difficult for him for sure.”

Ashworth echoed Howe’s sentiments, adding: “Our first port of call is to look after and support him. It’s probably more difficult for him than anyone else.

“We have a programme to support him and thankfully he’s able to train with the team, which is great for his mental well-being.

“We’re putting together a programme of what he can and can’t do over the coming months to get him back flying in August.”

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