There haven’t been many sticky moments for Manchester City on the pitch this season but one has found a way back into the mind. It involves Ivan Toney, so you will see where I’m going with this.
The date in question was November 12, when Arsenal were running hot. They had a two-point lead at the top of the table before the round of games that Saturday and by the close of business they were up by five points.
Part of that was down to their win at Wolves in the evening, but it was more closely tied to what Toney did to City at the Etihad Stadium a few hours earlier in the midday kick-off. He was magnificent and so were Brentford — they won 2-1, he scored both goals, and to date it is City’s only home loss in an immense Premier League campaign.
In a season of 20 league goals, they weren’t Toney’s best, but they carried the most weight, and he also offered up a nice line when he spoke afterwards: ‘They might be Man City but they’re humans and humans can lose games.’
Not enough for the ultimate title race, it would seem, and it is Toney himself who is now pondering the human errors that can damage a good season.
Ivan Toney was banned from football for eight months after admitting breaching betting rules
Brentford striker scored twice in 2-1 victory at Man City just four days before he was charged
Mail Sport’s Riath Al-Samarrai has questioned the curious timing of the Toney verdict and the bafflingly long wait for its arrival
But the point is less about the eight-month ban he received from the Football Association this week, so much as the curious timing of the verdict and the bafflingly long wait for its arrival.
The matter at hand here is one of integrity, of course. On that score there is no ambiguity around the need for a punishment — Toney admits he breached betting rules on 232 occasions, even if it appears he didn’t stray into the darkest colours of the gambling spectrum by wagering on his side to lose.
None of the whispers point in those directions. But that isn’t the only offence worth a ban, so he had to do some time.
The severity is something we can go into later — from my view, it seems heavy, though that is a conclusion better reserved for the release of the full report into what he did.
The more pressing issue would seem to nose on the wider implication to the Premier League, and whether the FA have taken a bigger bite out of the integrity of this season with their time frames than Toney did with his phone.
If we go to the chronology, Toney was charged on November 16, so four days after he gave City a good slapping. It is thought the broader investigation went back to around April 2022, meaning it took the better part of 16 months to have a hearing and rubber stamp a verdict.
Drawing a line at the moment of his charge, he has since scored 10 goals in the Premier League and those goals contributed to results worth 19 points to Brentford. In more direct terms, Toney’s strikes that turned a loss to a draw or a draw to a win were worth 14 points.
The detail in all of that is interesting, because in the six months from charge to resolution Toney’s goals took a point off Arsenal in February and he also took three from Southampton and Fulham and scored in a 3-3 draw with Brighton. Three weeks ago, he equalised against Nottingham Forest in what became a 2-1 win for Brentford.
Toney was charged on November 16 but it was another six months until resolution of his case
In a table where each rung is worth an extra £2million or so, those actions reverberate, which takes us back to timings, because what might Forest think if they go down, when in a speedier system Toney might have been on the naughty step for that match on April 29?
At the crux of it will be the seriousness of Toney’s breaches. We can assume from the FA’s walk to a resolution that the offences didn’t scream of the need for an instant suspension pending an outcome to enquiries. Had he bet on himself to miss a penalty, for example, and they had any kind of evidence to that effect, he wouldn’t have been left in circulation this long. They would have found a course to quicker actions. But that doesn’t seem to have been warranted.
To go by what sources have told us about the FA’s sanctioning standards in these cases, bans in excess of six months can derive from spot bets on specific occurrences not involving yourself, spot bets that do, or a wager on your team to lose, with the latter two brackets carrying the potential for the stiffer tariffs.
We know next to nothing on Toney’s specifics in the absence of the detailed findings, but eight months indicates a lack of grubbier intent. It seems more likely that a footballer whose kit carries a betting logo, at a club owned by a successful gambler, in a sport stuffed fat with gambling revenues, was foolish with his spare time.
If so, then the situation shifts away from being a security risk and becomes one of upholding the rules and the messaging of deterrents to others. In that eventuality, we have to wonder why this sanction has been issued now, with two rounds of fixtures still to play.
Brentford will finish their campaign by welcoming Manchester City to the Etihad Stadium
Brentford faced Tottenham on Saturday and they will close against Manchester City next Sunday.
Toney has an injury but that isn’t the point if we are to examine the theoretical robustness of how this has been handled — Tottenham in particular are in a live situation in the table and let’s imagine for a moment that City had a more active race with Arsenal up to the line.
An away game at Brentford without Toney is easier than one with him.
For the sake of greater integrity, then, because that is what these rules are about, why couldn’t the matter wait until the end of the season, when no clubs might have cause to query his involvement against them and not a rival? It smacks of an unnecessary imbalance to the competition to have done it at this stage.
The FA protocol in these scenarios is that bans should follow quickly after a hearing and Toney’s hearing was last week.
But it seems rather strange in a process where speed was of no obvious priority that they applied the sanction this week, when a fortnight down the line would have reduced the mess in a messy situation.
Spreading the disruption across two seasons instead of one is a trifle unnecessary. Human error, maybe. Or possibly this whole episode is another riddle in football’s relationship with gambling. You wouldn’t bet against it.
Emery is the pick of the season
Pep Guardiola is close to completing his masterpiece. Whatever we say about where the money came from and how it was logged in their books, this Manchester City team are playing some of the finest football we’ve ever seen in this country. But while Guardiola ranks among the greatest of all time, he isn’t my manager of the season.
That’s possibly because I’m at the US PGA Championship and I’m thinking in terms relative to par. In that sense, a City treble would be wonderful and it would exceed expectations, but not by much — they have the resources, the talent and the coaching to smash all comers.
Unai Emery, on the other hand, got to Aston Villa when they were hovering above the bottom three and has them pushing for Europe. For me, he shades it from Roberto de Zerbi.
Unai Emery has guided Aston Villa from just above the drop zone to the brink of Europe