Ivan Toney ‘fell out of love with football’ during betting ban

Ivan Toney holds his chin and looks concerned
Ivan Toney has revealed how dispirited he became with football at the start of his suspension - Nigel French/PA

Ivan Toney has admitted that he “fell out of love with football” soon after the start of his eight-month ban for breaching betting rules, as he prepares to make his long-awaited return to competitive action.

The Brentford striker has also said he was “confused” by Newcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali being allowed to train during his own gambling ban, when Toney was not permitted to train with his team-mates for four months.

Toney’s ban ends on Jan 17 and the England striker will be available for Brentford’s next Premier League game, at home to Nottingham Forest on Jan 20.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Toney said he is in “better shape now” and that he will be “hungrier” than ever when he makes his return, but admitted that he gained weight at the start of his ban and struggled to stay engaged with football.

“I didn’t watch football for a while, for a month and a bit,” said Toney. “I’d only really watch Brentford games but I would flick it on now and then, just listening in the background for the chances or the scoreline, things like this.

“Before that, I was watching every single Premier League game possible. Every League One and League Two game on TV, obviously coming from those leagues. In a way, I kind of punished myself, not watching games. Then I realised: That’s not really helping me, the situation is done.

Ivan Toney at Brentford's Premier League match  with Aston Villa in December 2023

“So watch football, enjoy it, and know when you get back, you’ve got things to do. Mentally it was tough, but I think I’m quite strong in that sense. I don’t let things get to me, so I brushed it aside and continued where I was going.

“There was a stage where I fell out of love with football, a bit. But then football is all that I know really. Playing football from a young age, it’s what I’m used to.

“Missing the game for a while and not being around my team-mates was tough. I feel like I’m a big personality in the dressing room, I like to make others happy and bring others up and just try to be a fun character around the whole training ground.”

Earlier this season Tonali, the Newcastle and Italy midfielder, was banned for 10 months by the Italian Football Federation for breaching betting rules. Tonali will miss this summer’s European Championship but has been allowed to continue training with his club.

Asked about Tonali being allowed to train, when he was not, Toney said: “I was a bit confused but what is done is done now. I can’t dwell on it now saying it’s not fair, but life’s not fair. We all know this.”

Toney has 18 months remaining on his contract at Brentford and his future has been a source of constant speculation. Thomas Frank, the Brentford head coach, has made it clear that the club have no interest in selling him this month, adding that it would take an “unbelievable price” to even tempt them into doing so.

‘I have a lot to repay at Brentford’

Toney has now said that he wants to “repay” Brentford for the support they have shown him since he was banned in May.

“The club was right behind me from the first bit,” he said. “The fans were behind me, which was a massive part. Even when I wasn’t at their games, they were singing my name. And I got loads of messages on social media. A friend of mine sent me a video of the fans singing my name, I got goosebumps to know that they’re still behind me, even though I’m not there.

“Everyone knows Brentford is a family club, they have been nothing but amazing for me. I can’t thank them enough, especially the fans. They were behind me from the first minute as well. So it’s kind of like I have a lot to repay.

“Thomas Frank has been the biggest help I could have asked for – the whole club has. From putting on extra sessions for me, from taking their time out to put a session on and go outside when it’s raining when they’re not supposed to be in. These kind of things, I have a lot to repay them and I can’t wait to try and do that.”

Amid an injury crisis, Brentford have lost five consecutive matches in the Premier League and now find themselves only four points clear of the relegation zone.

With Bryan Mbeumo injured and Yoane Wissa at the Africa Cup of Nations, Frank’s side are in desperate need of Toney’s goals in the coming weeks and months.

Toney struck 20 goals in 33 Premier League matches last season, as he established himself as one of English football’s deadliest forwards and became a full England international.

This weekend, he scored a hat-trick for Brentford’s B team in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Southampton’s under-23s.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.