Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth drops transfer hint after Sandro Tonali blow

Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth addressed the local and national media in light of Sandro Tonal’s 10 month ban

Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth has broken his silence on Sandro Tonali’s suspension from football, admitting the betting scandal came as a massive shock to him and the football club.

It was confirmed last week that FIFA had ratified the Italian Football Federation’s 10-month suspension for Tonali following an investigation into illegal betting activity that was launched during the October international break.

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The 23-year-old was away with the Italy national team and was first questioned by the Turin Prosecutor’s Office. He soon returned to Tyneside and featured in matches against Crystal Palace and Borussia Dortmund before his ban was ratified worldwide.

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The midfielder, who admitted to being a gambling addict, can’t play competitively until August 2024. As part of the suspension, Tonali will participate in a therapeutic plan and educational programme in Italy consisting of 16 commitments.

During the ban, Ashworth confirmed Tonali can train with his teammates but is seeking clarity over whether or not the midfielder can play in friendlies outside of the training ground.

‘A massive shock’

“It was a massive shock, a massive surprise,” Ashworth told reporters in a sitdown at the club’s training ground. “Dealing with it was new to all of us. It came from nowhere.

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“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. The Italian federation went into Coverciano to speak to Sandro. Within the next 48 hours everything went quickly and there was a potential he could get charged.

“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 Wolves game) where the ban had been signed off and agreed with the Italian federation, FIFA and our own Football Association.”

Could Newcastle United have known?

Could Newcastle United have known prior to signing him?

Ashworth continued: “He is a top player and a big signing, we will miss him. To contextualise it, it could have been an ACL. These things happen in football, although not in this context. For me, from the minute it happened, you look at yourself. What could we have done better? What could I have done better? What lessons can be 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.

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Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“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. It’s really tricky about what you can and can’t know about people in this world of GDPR and what you can and can’t check.

“First of all, I look at myself. We haven’t come up with anything yet. Speaking to other sporting and technical directors it’s almost like, ‘How could you have known?’ That would not stop us trying to get as much due diligence on people going forward to try to mitigate the risk.”

Would Newcastle have signed Tonali if they knew?

Ashworth was heavily involved in negotiations to sign Tonali for £52million having travelled to Italy to meet with AC Milan officials in June.

Asked if the club would have signed the player if he knew about his betting activity, Ashworth said: “I think if you know a player’s going to be out for 10 months whether that’s through a medical injury or through something like this, you’d either have to look at the deal again or structure the deal in a different manner. But as a player, from the performances of the player and the character and personality, no reservations.”

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Ashworth said he could not comment on the prospect of legal action against AC Milan but confirmed all aspects of the case are being reviewed.

What will Newcastle do during the January window?

Onto the January transfer window. Will look to replace Tonali?

Ashworth said: “We’ve got a number of things we can do. It might not be a like-for-like replacement for Sandro. It could be a player who can play in a different position or multiple positions. It could be that young Lewis Miley gets more minutes and comes to the fore between now and January. We might look at a different area of the pitch.

“But obviously it is a blow losing Sandro. He was one of our big signings in a key area of the pitch. He was going to be one of our most influential players so we have to do everything in our power to make sure the squad is as competitive as possible going into the second half of the season.

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“We have always been of the view that you have your budget for the whole financial year so you may as well spend as much of it as you can in the summer so you maximise the time that player can perform for the whole season rather than half a season in Jan.

“Also, Jan is a notoriously difficult window. So we do have a little bit of flexibility and we are able to look at the market. But there are lots of ways to do it. Whether it is a straight loan or a loan with an obligation or an option. You can sign a player and monetise it with a long contract.

“We are going to have to be quite creative and there will not be a large number of players coming in. But we do want to be active. We want to strengthen the squad and give us the best possible chance of success, but if the right player does not come up, we won’t do anything.

So do you feel pressure to get the next transfer right?

“I feel pressure on every transfer and I have done for 16 years. I am spending someone else’s money and I want to do the best job I can for that person, football club and those supporters.”

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And what about signing loaning players from the Saudi Pro League?

Newcastle have been linked with a loan move for Al Hilal midfielder Ruben Neves with the Saudi Pro League side 75 per-cent owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

As it stands, there is nothing stopping the Magpies from doing that but Ashworth hinted that Newcastle could potentially be stopped from doing any deals with PIF-linked clubs in the future.

“The current rules and regulations say there is nothing to stop it,” Ashworth said. “Currently. But there are, there is a potential that the various different organisations will look at things across related parties and what you can do to acquire players at a fair market value, which has already been in place for quite a while.”

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