Racism, gambling, goals; the remarkable rise of Ivan Toney
MANCHESTER, England (AP)– No matter how many blows Ivan Toney takes, the goals just keep on coming.
There has been the racist abuse on social media and a potential ban after he was charged with 262 breaches of English football’s gambling laws.
There was also his exclusion from England’s World Cup squad last year, despite his prolific scoring form for unfashionable Brentford.
Toney, however, continues to find the back of the net at such a rate that only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have scored more than him in the English Premier League this season.
As such, England Coach Gareth Southgate could not ignore the 27-year-old striker when naming his squad for the European Championship qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine this week, even with so much uncertainty surrounding the player’s future.
Should Toney be found guilty of the gambling charges that date back to 2017, he is likely to face a lengthy ban.
“There hasn’t been a trial as yet or any judgement so I don’t know on what basis we wouldn’t pick him,” Southgate said after his selection last week.
While Toney’s form arguably made it impossible for his national team to overlook him, Southgate has no way of knowing his availability for the remainder of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in light of the charges.
Former Manchester City and Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton was banned for 18 months in 2017 after admitting placing 1,260 soccer-related bets over a period of more than 10 years. That was later reduced by almost five months on appeal.
Former Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge received a four-month suspension in 2020 for breaching rules on inside information related to gambling.
Toney’s punishment could fall somewhere between those two cases if he is found guilty.
His England call-up was perhaps even more surprising after he publicly questioned the FA’s handling of his case following reports he could be ruled out for six months. Writing on Instagram this month, he said he was “worried about the process”.
If a potential ban is weighing on his mind, it has not been evident when playing for Brentford this season.
He has scored 17 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions for the London club, which has confounded expectations by holding its own in the top flight since Toney helped lead it to promotion two years ago.
His 16 goals in the league have only been bettered by Manchester City’s Haaland, with 28, and England Captain Kane, who has scored 21.
Even if, as is likely, Toney remains benched against Italy and Ukraine, his ascent during such a turbulent time is remarkable, with his form apparently unaffected by the noise surrounding him.
He demonstrated his resilience in November, when, just days after learning he would not be part of England’s World Cup squad, he outshone Haaland by scoring twice in a shock 2-1 win against City.
“He’s having a brilliant season, playing well for Brentford, scoring a lot of goals,” said England teammate and Chelsea defender Ben Chilwell on Tuesday. “As someone to come up against as a player, he is obviously a handful, a very physical player, but technically very good as well and in front of goal he’s potent.”
Toney has also had to contend with racist abuse.
In October he shared a screenshot of an Instagram direct message containing racist language.
“I wasn’t even going to post this but I woke up angry,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
A man has since been banned from every football stadium in Britain for three years after Toney’s tweet led to a police investigation.
But Toney was the target of more online racist attacks after scoring against title-chasing Arsenal last month.
“We are disgusted and saddened that Ivan has had to deal with this yet again,” Brentford said at the time.
That Toney has shown such strength of character is not surprising given the setbacks he had to endure in his early career after failing to make it at Newcastle.
He was sent out for six separate loan spells at lower-league clubs, including Barnsley, Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe, and less than three years ago was playing in England’s third division for Peterborough.
Brentford provided his route to the Premier League, but only after his 33 goals helped the club secure promotion in 2021.
He has proved he belongs in the top flight and, ordinarily, his form would have seen leading English clubs make their move.
For instance, Manchester United is in the hunt for a prolific striker this summer, with Kane and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen potential targets. Toney would represent a cheaper alternative.
Newcastle could also look to strengthen in attack at the end of the season, paving the way for a potential return for Toney.
It would be difficult, however, for any team to make a bid before the FA charges are resolved.
Any thoughts of a big transfer will have to be put on hold for now, with Toney’s career in something of a state of limbo despite his reputation growing game by game.