Ivan Toney ban: Football failing duty of care towards stars given sport is awash with betting cash
Ivan Toney’s eight-month ban from football, handed down by the FA last night for multiple breaches of betting rules, is a bitter blow for both the striker and Brentford.
At 27, Toney is in his prime and has enjoyed a breakthrough season in which he is the third-top scorer in the Premier League behind Erling Haaland and Harry Kane, and also earned his England debut.
He is now banned until January 16 and is even unable to train with his club for four months until mid-September. Toney, who has also been fined £50,000, said he was “naturally disappointed” by the decision.
Such a significant lay-off potentially ends his England career before it has even really begun. He earned his first cap in March and the ban is likely to wreck his chances of going to Euro 2024 next summer. When he returns, realistically can he get back to full fitness, return to the level he has been playing at and then force his way into Gareth Southgate’s plans?
His ban has also scuppered any chance of a lucrative move to a big club this summer. Chelsea were among the clubs interested in Toney, who has worked his way up from League One and last week was described by Thomas Frank as a £100million footballer.
Brentford were preparing to listen to offers for the forward, given he has two years left on his contract, but clubs are far less likely to invest in him now.
Toney’s ban raises serious questions about football’s uncomfortable, hypocritical relationship with the gambling industry.
When Toney has been playing for Brentford this season, he has been advertising Hollywoodbets as the main sponsor on the front of his shirt. When he joined the Bees, they were in the SkyBet Championship. Brentford owner Matthew Benham made his fortune from a betting and data-analysis company, and advertising for gambling firms is everywhere at Premier League and EFL grounds.
Changes are being made and, under pressure from the Government, Premier League clubs have agreed to a ban on gambling companies sponsoring the front of shirts by the 2026-27 season, though sleeve sponsorships and pitchside advertising will still be permitted.
Toney has broken the rules but not training with Brentford for four months is self-defeating. It will leave him isolated, and football has a duty of care to support players hooked on betting — not that this is the implication with Toney — given that gambling is entrenched in the game.
The ban is a setback for Brentford, who said they would wait for the publication of an independent regulatory commission’s written reasons before “considering their next steps”.
The club has scaled new heights this season and losing Toney is a blow to its slim chances of finishing seventh and qualifying for Europe.
They would surely also have been optimistic about a European place next season with Toney through the middle. That will be harder without their talisman or the funds his sale would have raised, but Brentford feel like a club well-equipped to deal with the situation
Toney was first charged in November, so they have had time to plan for this outcome and have already shown they can deal with losing their best players following the departures of Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins. Only a year ago they were being tipped for a relegation struggle.
The Bees are one of the best-run clubs in the country and Frank is capable of transforming a new signing or even reshaping the team with existing personnel. Brentford are likely to consider looking to the transfer market for a replacement but they could have solutions in their squad.
Kevin Schade is a raw talent who can play centrally and Frank has a superb record at developing strikers. Yoane Wissa has just signed a new contract and has popped up with some crucial goals this season, as has Bryan Mbeumo.
So, while losing Toney is a setback, it is not time to panic.