Dan Ashworth explains why Newcastle could be blocked from signing Tonali replacement

Will Ford
Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth in the stands during a match
Dan Ashworth was appointed as Newcastle's sporting director in the summer of 2022.

Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth has explained why Newcastle may be blocked from signing a replacement for Sandro Tonali, despite no current rules to stop them.

Tonali has been 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.

The ban leaves Newcastle short in midfield, and reports suggest Eddie Howe wants to strengthen his options in that area in January, with Ruben Neves linked with a move to St James’ Park.

The former Wolves midfielder plays for Al Hilal, who are owned by the Public Investment Fund, and Ashworth was asked if there is anything to stop Newcastle taking players from the Saudi Pro League.

“Currently, no…” he said, followed by a long pause.

“The current rules and regulations say there is nothing to stop it. Currently. But 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 have already been in place for quite a while.”

Essentially, rival Premier League clubs might have a slight issue with PIF-owned Newcastle signing players from PIF-owned clubs in Saudi Arabia, like Al Hilal. Ashworth is probably right to be skeptical over that particular deal.

Ashworth went on to explaint that the Tonali revelations “came from nowhere”.

“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.”

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