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Newcastle United transfer chief reveals Sandro Tonali replacement plan amid links to Saudi-based Ruben Neves

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United transfer chief Dan Ashworth has revealed the club is looking to dip into the January transfer market to make up for the loss of banned midfielder Sandro Tonali.

However, the Newcastle sporting director was lukewarm on suggestions the Magpies will make a winter window move for Al-Hilal’s Ruben Neves.

Tonali is officially serving the first month of his worldwide footballing ban, handed down by Italian football authorities due to his involvement in betting activities on illegal gambling sites. The Italian, a summer signing from AC Milan, will not return to availability until late August, 2024, ruling him out of the rest of this season and the European Championships, should his country qualify.

And Ashworth admits the club will look to dip into the market early next year to bolster Eddie Howe’s ranks, with the club still fighting on three fronts, potentially four, when the FA Cup comes into play in January. While that could, theoretically, open up a move for former Wolves-man Neves, who is admired by the Magpies, Ashworth was quick to suggest Premier League pressure when asked about a potential deal with another Public Investment of Saudi Arabia-owned club.

“We’ve got a number of things we can do,” he said on the upcoming transfer window.

“It might not be a like-for-like replacement for Sandro. It could be a player who can play in a different position or multiple positions. It could be that young Lewis Miley gets more minutes and comes to the fore between now and January. We might look at a different area of the pitch.

“But obviously it is a blow losing Sandro. He was one of our big signings in a key area of the pitch. He was going to be one of our most influential players so we have to do everything in our power to make sure the squad is as competitive as possible going into the second half of the season.

“We have always been of the view that you have your budget for the whole financial year so you may as well spend as much of it as you can in the summer so you maximize the time that player can perform for the whole season rather than half a season in January. Also, January is a notoriously difficult window.

“We do have a little bit of flexibility and we are able to look at the market. But there are lots of ways to do it. Whether it is a straight loan or a loan with an obligation or an option. You can sign a player and monetise it with a long contract.

“We are going to have to be quite creative and there will not be a large number of players coming in. But we do want to be active. We want to strengthen the squad and give us the best possible chance of success, but if the right player does not come up, we won’t do anything.”

As mentioned in the national press, one way Newcastle could use that creativity would be to take advantage of their Saudi links to raid the Pro League, whose top clubs are owned by the Magpies’ majority shareholders, PIF.

Portuguese Neves was looked at by the Magpies in the summer, but a move for Tonali was seen to represent more value and promise.

“The current rules and regulations say there is nothing to stop it, currently,” Ashworth said when quizzed on the deal with the Saudi Pro League PIF four.

“But there is a potential that the various different organizations will look at things across related parties and what you can do to acquire players at a fair market value, which has already been in place for quite a while.”

Fans have long been speculating about the Tonali deal and about who knew what and when. Did the Magpies get the wool pulled over their eyes by AC Milan, or was this an impossible-to-predict outcome? Ashworth has been asking himself the same questions.

He said: “He is a top player and a big signing, we will miss him. To contextualize it, it could have been an ACL (knee injury). These things happen in football, although not in this context. For me, from the minute it happened, you look at yourself. What could we have done better? What could I have done better? What lessons can be learned from this? Could we have known? Should we have known? 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. You have all seen the culture and cohesion in the group is extremely strong, and that’s not by chance. We spend an immense amount of time looking at the character as well as the athlete. We have and will continue to review what we have done in the past and will do going forward.

“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?’ That would not stop us trying to get as much due diligence on people going forward to try to mitigate the risk.”

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