Newcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali will be banned from football for 10 months for breaching betting rules while at former club AC Milan.
Tonali, who joined Newcastle from the Serie A side in the summer, must also attend treatment sessions for problem gamblers and give a series of talks about his experience over a further eight-month period as part of a deal with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
The plea-bargain agreement, which is expected to apply to international football, was confirmed by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina. It will rule Tonali out for the remainder of the club season and next summer's Euro 2024 tournament, if Italy qualify.
“We can't just think about punishing the boys and not helping them recover,” Gravina said. “I think it's worth a lot more, rather than a month ban, eight months of giving talks about what they went through, in an honest way and with the right behaviour.”
The player’s agent, Giuseppe Riso, recently acknowledged that his client has a gambling problem and that Tonali told prosecutors he bet on AC Milan and Brescia when he played for those clubs.
The 23-year-old is the second Italian player to be banned from football in a betting scandal that came to light during the recent international break, with Juventus' Nicolo Fagioli was suspended for seven months by the FIGC's disciplinary tribunal earlier this month.
Tonali and Aston Villa’s Nicolo Zaniolo were sent back to their clubs this month after police showed up at Italy’s national team training camp to officially notify them of involvement in the Turin probe. Zaniolo has said he did not bet on games.
Tonali – who became the most expensive Italian player of all time when he completed his £55 million move to Tyneside in July – will not be able to resume his career until August.
It will be a bitter blow to Magpies manager Eddie Howe whose team face crucial Champions League, Premier League and League Cup games in the next two weeks alone.
“We will throw our arms around Sandro and protect him and try to give him the love and support he needs to find solutions to the problems he's had,” Howe said last Friday.
“We see him being part of our team for many years. We are committed to him long term.”
Tonali has yet to start a game since news of the betting scandal emerged, appearing twice as a substitute at St James' Park against Crystal Palace and Borussia Dortmund. He was given a rousing reception from home fans on both occasions.