Could Newcastle sack Sandro Tonali over illegal betting?

  • Sandro Tonali has been caught up in the Italian betting scandal
  • The player's agent has confirmed he has a gambling addiction
  • The midfielder is potentially facing a lengthy ban after admitting to betting

Newcastle signed Sandro Tonali for £55m in the summer
Newcastle signed Sandro Tonali for £55m in the summer / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Newcastle United's marquee signing of the summer, Sandro Tonali, is facing an uncertain future at St James' Park.

The £55m midfielder is involved in a betting scandal that is wreaking havoc in Italy and he is one of the players under investigation by the Italian authorities, alongside Aston Villa loanee Nicolo Zaniolo.

With the Federal Prosecutor's Office still conducting their enquiries, there are plenty of questions to be answered. But Tonali has admitted to the authorities that he put bets on matches involving former club AC Milan - games he's not believed to have played a part in himself - and that's likely to lead to a significant ban from the game.

Juventus' Nicolo Fagioli has already received a seven-month ban - he has subsequently revealed that Tonali introduced him to an illegal betting app and that debt collectors had threatened to break his legs - and Tonali is expected to receive a similar sentence for co-operating, rather than the maximum three-year worldwide ban that could be applied in this scenario.

The question for Newcastle is what they do next. Could they go as far as to sack Tonali or is it more likely they will stand by their player as he attempts to navigate through what's clearly a difficult period in his life?

What is Tonali alleged to have done wrong?

Sandro Tonali
Tonali had to withdraw from international duty / Claudio Villa/GettyImages

Having joined up with the Italy squad over the international break, Tonali was unable to feature against Malta or England during Euro 2024 qualifying, instead returning home from the national team camp due to the seriousness of allegations against him.

Tonali is accused of breaching article 24 of the Code of Sports Justice, which states that it prohibits "the subjects of the federal system, managers, members, and members of clubs belonging to the professional sector from making or accepting bets, directly or indirectly, even from persons authorised to receive them, which have as their object results relating to official matches organised within the framework of the FIGC, FIFA, and UEFA."

The 23-year-old hasn't spoken publicly, but has admitted to authorities that he bet on football matches involving former club AC Milan. His agent Giuseppe Riso has also confirmed that his client has a gambling addiction. stating at event at the Italian Embassy in London: "The federation is standing by Sandro. He is playing his most important game - against betting addiction. He’s in shock, he’s very sad."

Tonali is facing a lengthy ban having initially denied ever betting on football. The minimum ban for such an offence is three years, although it would likely be reduced as a result of his admission of guilt.

Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagiolo co-operated fully with authorities and received a €12,500 (£10,800) fine in addition to his seven-month ban. If Tonali were to receive a similar punishment, he'd be out for almost the entirety of Newcastle's 2023/24 campaign.

Can Tonali still play for Newcastle and Italy?

Eddie Howe
Eddie Howe is likely to face some unwanted questions about Tonali / Nigel French/Allstar/GettyImages

As things stand, Tonali is still free to play for Newcastle in domestic and European competition as no official charges have been levelled againt him. That situation will remain the same while authorities continue to investigate.

But sources have told 90min that Newcastle were 'shocked' by Tonali's admission to the Italian authorities - they had initially been led to believe that any betting activity had involved poker and online casino games only.

As a result, Eddie Howe may opt to omit Tonali from the team, as his inclusion would likely draw huge attention and prove distracting, and the club may also feel that taking him out of the spotlight is the right thing to do.

A Newcastle statement on the situation, released on Wednesday, said: "Newcastle United can confirm that Sandro Tonali is subject to investigation by the Italian Prosecutor's Office and Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in relation to illegal betting activity.

"Sandro is fully engaging with the investigation and will continue to cooperate with all relevant authorities.

"He and his family will continue to receive the club's full support. Due to this ongoing process, Sandro and Newcastle United are unable to offer further comment at this time."

In regards to national team selection, it's unlikely Tonali will be considered anytime soon, despite manager Luciano Spalletti admitting that his camp were "distraught" at the situation. That may leave him stranded on 15 international caps for some time to come - his participation at Euro 2024, if Italy make it, also must be in serious doubt.

Could Newcastle sack Tonali?

Sandro Tonali
Tonali's future looks uncertain at Newcastle / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

The question some Newcastle fans may be asking is whether Tonali, if banned, is in breach of his Newcastle contract. And if so, will the club be liable to pay the remaining balance of the transfer fee agreed with AC Milan?

Leading sports lawyer and partner at Leathes Prior, Dan Chapman, told 90min: "If Tonali is suspended from football as a result of a betting conviction, that would very likely mean he was in breach of contract with Newcastle and/or that he may have breached warranties given to Newcastle when he signed for them if he failed to declare an ongoing case which he knew about.

"In reality, that does not give Newcastle a great deal of comfort. As we have seen from many cases before, a club is slow to want to terminate their player’s contract for gross misconduct or serious breach of contract because all they are doing as a result is sustaining a huge financial loss on a player who otherwise carries significant market value and Newcastle would want to find another solution.

"One imagines that Newcastle will start by exploring whether or not they are still obliged to pay the remaining instalments of the transfer fee that is due to Milan (and recover those paid to date) and that will turn on various factors – but particularly the extent of Milan’s knowledge of the impending betting case at the time of the transfer and the precise terms of the transfer agreement that was in place."

The case of Brentford striker Ivan Toney is an example of a club opting to stand by their player and protect their asset, rather than severing ties through a contract termination. He was banned for eight months after admitting 232 breaches of betting rules - Tonali has a five-year contract in the North East and his move to Newcastle made him the most expensive Italian player of all time.

How long will Tonali be banned for?

With Fagioli banned from worldwide football for seven months - his punishment was actually a 12-month ban with five months suspended- it's likely any ban for Tonali will be at least that length.

But how long he's prevented from playing football worldwide will be determined by the nature of his betting offences and his alone - there's no precedent to be followed here and Newcastle fans mustn't look at Fagioli's suspension and assume the same judgment will apply.

A three-year worldwide ban is unlikely because Tonali has confessed to his wrongdoing, but anything less than Fagioli's length of ban, and Toney's for that matter, would be a surprise.