Dan Ashworth leaves Newcastle under a dark cloud – Sandro Tonali will be his legacy

Dan Ashworth (centre) looks on as Sandro Tonali talks with his new team-mate Kieran Trippier after signing for Newcastle

As Dan Ashworth waits to find out when he will be able to start work as Manchester United’s new director of football, the last thing he will have wanted is to be reminded of a costly blunder he made during his time in charge of Newcastle.

Ashworth did a lot of good things during his 18 months as sporting director at Newcastle, but the signing of Sandro Tonali was not one of them.

The second most expensive player he bought during his time on Tyneside leaves him with an embarrassing legacy that has once again been thrust under the spotlight.

Newcastle thought they had pulled off a major coup when they signed the Italy international from AC Milan for £56 million in July, but it has turned into a disastrous piece of business.

In October, following an investigation by the Italian Football Association, Tonali was exposed as a serial gambler who had breached gambling rules multiple times at Brescia and AC Milan.

In England, the Football Association has now confirmed he continued to gamble on matches after he signed for Newcastle, releasing a statement on Thursday confirming he has been charged with 50 more offences.

Tonali’s agent admitted in October that his client was an addict, going public with the player’s personal problems before his punishment was confirmed. Newcastle’s big summer signing was duly hit with a 10-month worldwide ban by the Italian FA.

Newcastle’s desire to support the player and Tonali’s genuine contrition when he came clean, as well as his willingness to cooperate with the authorities, both in Italy and in England, encouraged sympathy. Gambling addiction – like any – ruins lives and Tonali’s had done precisely that.

‘It was his job to do the required due diligence’

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the controversy leaves a stain on Ashworth’s reputation. As sporting director it was his job to do the required due diligence on every new signing and this was a major issue he failed to uncover.

Newcastle spent a large amount of money, especially considering their profit and sustainability budget constraints last summer, on a player who has made just 12 appearances for the club and will not play for them again until the end of August.

AC Milan insisted they had no idea Tonali had a gambling problem – and sources have told Telegraph Sport he had gone to great lengths to keep it a secret – but it is Newcastle and Ashworth who are left to carry the can.

The Italian club were willing to sell one of their crown jewels and the Newcastle hierarchy could not believe their luck. It brings to mind the old saying, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Newcastle cannot prove AC Milan knew anything about Tonali’s gambling problem and in private they have told Telegraph Sport that they believe the Italian club when they say they did not.

AC Milan continue to strenuously deny they had any prior knowledge of the investigation by the Italian FA, claiming the need to sell Tonali last summer was purely a financial one.

In turn, Ashworth insisted, when he spoke to reporters in November, that there was no way anybody could have known about a player’s private problems of this nature, when he kept his addiction secret from those around him.

There is sense in what he said, but that does not mean he did not make a mistake. It was Ashworth who flew out to Milan to conclude negotiations. It was Ashworth who dealt with the player and his representatives and met his family. It was also his job to do background checks, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they might have been.

There are, of course, mitigating circumstances, but regardless, Newcastle’s season was severely damaged by the loss of Tonali in October. He was the signing who elevated manager Eddie Howe’s first team and he has been deprived of his services for 10 months.

It is highly unlikely the FA will extend Tonali’s ban, although this will be decided by an independent commission next month.

Newcastle believe punishment will run concurrently

In all the conversations Newcastle have had with the game’s governing body, they have been led to believe that punishment for him gambling on games while registered as a player in England will run concurrently with the existing 10-month ban.

That would be the right outcome. Tonali has been severely punished once and that is enough. He needs help and support for an addiction, not an even longer ban. The 23-year-old has already lost enough of his playing career. It would be cruel to deprive him of even more of it.

But as Ashworth sits at home, put on gardening leave by Newcastle after he informed them he wanted to work for Manchester United, this is a painful reminder of the error he and Newcastle made.

Had they had any inclination of a gambling problem they would not have signed Tonali. It is as simple as that. And as it was Ashworth who signed him, his fingerprints cannot be wiped away.

That might be harsh, but that is the nature of the business he is in. Football managers take the blame when results are bad and sporting directors do the same when transfer blunders are made.

Ashworth is one of the best sporting directors around, which is why Manchester United wanted him, even though they will have to pay a large compensation fee in order to release him early from gardening leave that runs until the end of 2025.

But he left Newcastle having signed a player for a huge amount of money who has barely kicked a ball. It is a mistake he cannot make again when he eventually starts work at Old Trafford.

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