So that’s it then, Sandro Tonali has been banned for 10 months as a result of gambling offences committed while playing in Italy variously for Brescia and AC Milan. That’s an extended period. It’s a pattern of behaviour. Strong evidence of an addictive, compulsive behaviour.

It is reported there will be a further 8-months of rehabilitation (completed in Italy) which boiled down to the bones means our Italian midfielder will be missing until August 2024 and possibly periodically after up until 18 months from now.

It’s a blow but it might have been worse as the penalty could have been three years.  It’s reported also Sandro cooperated completely with the authorities even going “above and beyond” which I’ll be honest in the circumstances suggests a degree of self-preservation given anything other may have increased his penalty. It appears he has been well-advised.

Thankfully, Tonali will be allowed to train with United and I’m delighted we have a coach of the intelligence and mentality of Eddie Howe to support the player and can only imagine the response from certain former managers in the recent and not so recent past in similar circumstances.  Shudder.

Some are more equal than others – 4/Oct/23

Whether United’s top brass and I mean by that our board have a similar level of equanimity, I couldn’t say but the episode potentially has a fair way to run I’d guess.

From a Newcastle United perspective Tonali’s ban puts a bomb in the middle of our summer recruitment just gone and as we reflect upon the defeat to Dortmund at a rain-lashed SJP, the kind of game the former Rossoneri man was signed to perform in for us with Harvey Barnes out for an extended period, then the question is what happens next?

By that I mean, eyes narrowing around the boardroom table and asking each other the same question we all are – did AC Milan have us off in the summer by selling United a player in scope of a significant ban?

Obviously I don’t have the answer to that question but it’s one I can’t believe isn’t being asked by Yasir-al-Rumayyan, Dan Ashworth, Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Jamie Reuben, Darren Eales as well as Eddie Howe. I’d imagine calls have already been made to the Newcastle United legal team. Who knows even Nick De Marco KC may be reacquainting himself with our club.

The key questions for me that need to be brought into the public eye are:

  • When did the offences occur?
  • Who, how and when were they discovered?
  • When did the FIGC initiate an investigation?
  • When was AC Milan, Sandro Tonali and his agent informed they were under investigation?
  • What was disclosed to Newcastle United during contract negotiations?
  • What is obliged to be disclosed to a purchasing club – by the selling club, player, agent and FIGC?
  • What is UEFA’s role within such investigations and what are their obligations within the scope of a transfer for a player under investigation?
  • What is Newcastle United’s route towards legal redress?
  • Will payments to AC Milan be suspended pending an outstanding legal case?
  • Will Tonali continue to be paid whilst suspended?

Obviously, all I have are questions but I think these are the points to be addressed by those reporting on the case. That’s the bones of it I suppose. It’d be good to have some of those points investigated, clarified and explained.

Back to the football.

We’re a player down. A player unquestionably of Champions League calibre and one who’s arrival delighted Eddie Howe. He was United’s summer marquee signing and although it’s to be hoped the long term prospects for Tonali are unknown, between now and the rest of the season, we are short whilst currently fighting on four fronts.

Just to note Tonali’s ban weakens us in a competition we’re in facing AC Milan in and by happenstance we’re in the same Champions League group as everyone knows. That provides an additional subtext to our up and coming fixture with the men from the San Siro in December. It will be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the Director’s Suite when executives from both clubs meet.

What should the club do?

St James’ Park expansion – What is a feasibility study anyway?

The obvious response is for Ashworth to identify a replacement even on a permanent or loan arrangement. There have been suggestions we could bring in former Wolves midfielder Neves on-loan from the Saudi Pro League, which would be entertaining simply for the fume that would be released from the usual suspects.

There was the highly unlikely prospect of Jordan Henderson coming here, which whilst again would be amusing for boiling the piss of those down the road, I don’t suppose mischief-making is the primary motivation of our Sporting Director.

Other names include Man City’s Kalvin Phillips who would like to play more football ahead of the Euros, Scott McTominay at Man Utd and Everton’s Amadou Onana. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone from the plethora of names pushed in front of us by click-hungry football sites.

The earliest recruitment we can make is January obviously and by then United might consider we have priorities in other areas or well, even may choose to battle through regardless. We are due a quiet transfer window soon.

We won’t get any answers on that but it won’t remove some febrile speculation will it?

Then of course there is the absurdity of Tonali and indeed other players banned from a sport with betting companies logos plastered all over shirts, perimeter advertising, commercial TV breaks and promoted by football personalities. Ivan Toney for example will return for Brentford wearing a shirt bearing the name of a betting site. We have two betting sites advertised via Newcastle United. It is a preposterous situation.

NIL BY MOUTH – 3/Oct/2023

Football needs to develop a moral compass on this because its ethics appear completely absent and rules on betting designed solely to preserve the integrity of the sport as opposed to protect individuals.

Although the focus this week is on players, just how much damage is being done in wider society, in particular to young men who are the betting companies target demographic. I doubt those with gambling addictions who frequent the stands of the San Siro or St James’ Park will be the recipients of the kind of support Tonali will receive by dent of them not being multi-million pound assets to football clubs (corporations).

This is the first significant bump in the road United has faced since the takeover when those at the top of United have barely put a foot wrong (let’s leave aside the sclerotic ticketing situation created by middle-management at SJP for the moment) but this is a test. It is a test on so many different fronts not least how they react to Tonali himself and subsequently nurture him into the pivotal player he was recruited to be, how the club reacts to what many are claiming was a dubious transfer deal and what lessons will be learned for the future.

Hopefully what doesn’t kill any of those at United over this affair will make us stronger.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

Michael Martin, @TFMick1892

Anyone seeking support for gambling addiction might find the enclosed support helpful – click here