Stefano Pioli, manager of AC Milan, recently stated that the club was unaware of Sandro Tonali’s gambling issues before his transfer to Newcastle United. Tonali, a defensive midfielder, was banned from soccer for 10 months after admitting to betting on games, including those he participated in, through illegal gambling sites. This violated the rules of both the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and the English Football Association (FA).
Newcastle paid a record £55 million (US$70 million) for Tonali, making it the highest transfer fee for an Italian soccer player. However, the club may have reconsidered the deal had they known about these issues.
Pioli defended Tonali, claiming he was polite and respectful, and stated that he was not aware of any problems. He still believes that Newcastle got a “great deal” despite not being able to play Tonali currently.
Tonali’s gambling habits came to light during an investigation by Italian police into illegal online gambling linked to organized crime. Fellow Italian international Nicolo Zaniolo, who plays for Aston Villa, also faced questioning but denied betting on games. However, he admitted to playing online poker and blackjack, claiming he was unaware that the sites he used were illegal.
Both players were sent home from Italy’s training camp and have not played for their country since. Tonali faced a potential three-year ban from the sport under FIGC rules but reached a plea deal involving eight months of rehab activities and public appearances in support of problem gambling programs.
In a similar case, Juventus midfielder Nicolò Fagioli was banned for seven months as part of a settlement with the FIGC for breaching rules surrounding betting on matches.