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Newcastle not ruling out legal action against Milan over Sandro Tonali

Newcastle’s director of football, Dan Ashworth, has refused to rule out the club initiating legal action against Milan over the transfer of Sandro Tonali after the midfielder was given a 10-month ban for breaching Italian betting regulations.

Ashworth said he had questioned his own role in Tonali’s signing as Newcastle’s majority Saudi Arabian owners oversee an internal investigation into what went wrong.

“From the minute it happened, you look at yourself,” said Ashworth, the former Football Association technical director, who – with hindsight – would not have recruited Tonali. “What could we have done better? What could I have done better? What lessons can be learned? Could we have known? Should we have known? He’s a top player and a big signing, we will miss him.”

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Much hinges on whether Milan could have known about Tonali’s problems – the 23-year-old’s agent has said Tonali has a gambling addiction and is undergoing corrective therapy – and the Italian police investigation into illegal betting that gathered pace over the summer.

Last night Milan said they had no prior knowledge of the issues. “We first learnt about Tonali’s gambling addiction through media reports, what we know is only what we read. We don’t know anything else,” said Milan in a club statement.

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Before this, Ashworth had said: “It’s really difficult for me to get into what other clubs do or don’t know.” He declined to confirm or deny whether Newcastle were pursuing legal action against Milan but made clear he did not blame Tonali’s agent. “All we can do is look at our own internal investigation and internal process. It’s a really difficult question for me to answer – I just don’t know.

“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. We spend an immense amount of time looking at the character as well as the athlete. It’s really tricky about what you can and can’t know about people in this world of GDPR [general data protection regulation] and what you can and can’t check.

But, 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?’ It was a massive shock, a massive surprise. Dealing with it was new to all of us. It came from nowhere.”

Ashworth said there had been “no conversations” with Milan since the clubs drew 0-0 at San Siro in September in the Champions Leagueand that Newcastle would welcome them to St James’ Park in December “just like PSG and Dortmund”.

Tonali is understood to have accepted a significant pay cut on wages believed to be about £120,000 a week for the duration of his ban but will be allowed to train with the side. Ashworth, like Howe, has immense sympathy for the player and is adamant Newcastle will support him.

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“Sandro’s back in training but first and foremost, he’s a human being and we have a programme to support him,” he said. “Sandro’s been outstanding since this happened and fully collaborative. He’s a top human being.”

Although financial fair play restrictions limit Newcastle’s room for transfer market manoeuvre in January, Ashworth will endeavour to strengthen Howe’s squad. He suspects the rules on Newcastle taking players on loan from clubs in Saudi Arabia also owned by the country’s Public Investment Fund could be tightened by then. “The current rules say there is nothing to stop it,” said Ashworth. “Currently.” Rúben Neves, who plays from the PIF club Al-Hilal, is believed to be under consideration.

Ashworth said Tonali had been “transparent” and “collaborative” with the English FA over his gambling problems. There is no current suggestion of the FA conducting investigations into a midfielder who has received support from individual Newcastle executives. “I know Sandro has had some messages of support from board members,” Ashworth said.

While the FA yesterday confirmed it had opened an investigation into potential breaches of its betting rules following Tonali’s arrival from Milan in July it is thought unlikely that there will be any extension of the existing 10-month ban.