Jason Wilcox has left Southampton to become Manchester United’s new technical director with immediate effect.

The 53-year-old becomes a key appointment at Old Trafford as part of United’s off-field overhaul following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s arrival at the club.

Wilcox joined Championship side Southampton last summer as their director of football, making the switch from Manchester City where he developed a reputation for nurturing excellent young talent as well as recruiting some of the best prospects in the game.

A United statement read: “Jason Wilcox has joined Manchester United as technical director with immediate effect.

“He will work with all technical areas of the football department to achieve the highest standards of performance.

“Jason was previously director of football at Southampton and before that academy director at Manchester City.

“As a player he won the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers in 1995.”

A Saints statement read: “Southampton Football Club can today confirm that it has reluctantly agreed to allow director of football Jason Wilcox to join Manchester United, having reached an agreement with the Premier League side on an acceptable compensation fee.

“Whilst the club is naturally disappointed that Jason’s stay at Southampton has only lasted nine months, it wishes him well for the future.”

John Murtough stepped down as football director at Old Trafford last week.

United are looking to add Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth to their staff as Ratcliffe continues his off-field rebuild after taking a 27.7 per cent stake in the club.

Wilcox will report to the sporting director, who will have overall responsibility for football performance, recruitment and operations.

The PA news agency understands Darren Fletcher will continue to play a key role in the football leadership team working across the men’s first team and academy.

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag says he will miss the support of departed football director John Murtough and has emphasised the importance of replacing him.

United on Tuesday announced Murtough was stepping down from the post, having spent almost 11 years at the club in a variety of roles.

The Red Devils, with Ineos now in control of football operations after Sir Jim Ratcliffe became minority owner in February, are looking to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth and Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox.

Asked about Murtough leaving at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth, Ten Hag said: “You mention the new season – it’s very important, the new ownership is working on this and we have to replace this function to go into the new season.

“For the moment, of course I miss his support, but he moved on, there has been choices made. We work very good together, so I say thank you to John and I wish him all the best for the future.

“Also I work with the new ownership very good and closely together and that will not change. It doesn’t have an impact on the way I can work here.

“Conditions were perfect and are still perfect, so I’m happy with that, but we want to set the right conditions to be successful.”

England boss Gareth Southgate says he will not speak to any interested parties until after Euro 2024 and called speculation linking him to Manchester United “completely disrespectful” to Erik ten Hag.

This summer could well prove the 53-year-old’s fourth and final tournament in charge of the national team with his Football Association contract expiring in December.

Southgate says contract talks are on the back burner with his full focus on glory in Germany, but the background noise dialled up this week following reports of Manchester United’s potential interest.

“I think there are two things from my point of view,” Southgate said.

“One is that I’m the England manager. I’ve got one job, basically, to try and deliver a European Championship. Clearly before that, two important games this week.

“And the second thing is Manchester United have a manager and I think it’s always completely disrespectful when there’s any speculation about a manager that’s in place.

“I’m president of the LMA so I don’t have any time for that sort of thing, really.”

United’s ambitious new co-owners Ineos are understood to admire Southgate, who has a good relationship with Sir Dave Brailsford as well as potential incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth.

But he would not be the only candidate if the job came up and the Red Devils are planning for next season with Ten Hag as things stand.

And irrespective of whether that role comes up in the coming months, Southgate says he will not speak to anyone until after the Euros.

“I think I’ve answered this every time I’ve sat with you,” Southgate said. “Yeah, my focus is a European Championship.

“If we did something, a contract, here before everybody would be saying, ‘why are you signing a contract before a Euros where you’ve got to prove yourself?’.

“I’m certainly not going to speak to anybody else ahead of that. I never have.

“I’ve been eight years in the job. I wouldn’t entertain speaking to anybody else when I’m in the job.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe admits Dan Ashworth would make a “very good addition” to Manchester United as sporting director and says it would be “absurd” if he was forced to serve an extended period of garden leave.

Ashworth has been placed on leave by Newcastle after informing the club that he had chosen to leave his role as their sporting director.

Manchester United co-owner Ratcliffe has confirmed United’s interest in Ashworth and hoped a sensible solution could be worked out.

“I think Dan Ashworth is clearly one of the top sporting directors in the world. I’ve no doubt he’s a very, very capable person,” Ratcliffe said on Wednesday after completing his purchase of a minority stake in United which will rise to 28.9 per cent by year’s end.

“And he’s interested in the Manchester United job because it’s probably the biggest sporting director job in the world just now, with the biggest challenge.

“It would be different if you were sporting director at Manchester City, because you’re just maintaining a level. With Manchester United, you’ve got quite a significant building job.

“I think it’d be a very good addition to Manchester United, but he needs to decide whether he’s going to make that jump.

“We’ve obviously had words with Newcastle. They clearly would be disappointed to lose Dan. I understand why they would be disappointed to lose Dan but but then you can’t equally criticise Dan because it is a transient industry.

“So we’ll have to see how it unfolds.”

Ratcliffe said it would be “a bit silly” if it took £20million to secure Ashworth’s services, and added: “What I do think is completely absurd is suggesting that a man who’s really good at his job, sits in his garden for one and a half years.

“I mean, that’s completely stupid. We had a very grown-up conversation with Manchester City about Omar (Berrada, who will become United’s new chief executive). Things calmed up and we sorted it out very amicably.

“They could see why Omar wanted to take on that challenge and they didn’t want to stand in his way.

“You look at (Manchester City manager) Pep (Guardiola) with his footballers, if you’ve got a footballer that doesn’t want to play for Manchester City, then he says ‘fine, you can leave’ but he doesn’t tell him, ‘I want you to sit in the garden for four and a half years’.

“That’s not the way the UK works, or at least not the way the law works in the UK, either. It supports a period of time which is sensible and fair, but not silly periods of time.”

Ratcliffe admitted recruitment was “top of the list” in achieving his goal of returning to the pinnacle of the English and European game within three years.

“I think recruitment in the modern game is critical,” he said.

“Manchester United have clearly spent a lot of money but they haven’t done as well as some other clubs. So when I was talking about being best in class in all aspects of football, recruitment is clearly top of the list.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has completed a deal to purchase a stake in Manchester United which will grant his Ineos company control of football operations at the club.

The Ineos founder, chairman and chief executive has completed his acquisition of 25 per cent of the Club’s class B shares and 25 per cent of the club’s Class A shares.

The investment from Trawlers Ltd, a company wholly owned by Ratcliffe, received Premier League and Football Association approval last week and was officially confirmed on Tuesday night.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe said: “To become co-owner of Manchester United is a great honour and comes with great responsibility.

“This marks the completion of the transaction, but just the beginning of our journey to take Manchester United back to the top of English, European and world football, with world-class facilities for our fans.

“Work to achieve those objectives will accelerate from today.”

Ratcliffe has agreed to pay US dollars 33 (£26) per share for a quarter of the Class A shares, as well as paying that price for 25 per cent of the Class B shares held by the Glazer family. Each Class B shares confers 10 times as many votes as a Class A share.

The deal was announced on Christmas Eve and the agreement to buy a 27.7 per cent stake in the club also includes investing an additional 300 million US dollars (£237m) into the club’s infrastructure, taking the total investment to £1.25billion.

United co-chairman Joel Glazer said: “I would like to welcome Sir Jim as co-owner and look forward to working closely with him and Ineos Sport to deliver a bright future for Manchester United.”

The billionaire Ratcliffe, who was born in Failsworth in Greater Manchester in October 1952 and says he was “around 10” when he first went to a United match, has been a frequent visitor as Ineos prepares to take responsibility for footballing operations at United.

Ratcliffe also attended the annual memorial for the Munich air disaster at Old Trafford on February 6.

Sir Dave Brailsford, Ineos’ director of sport, has also been a regular presence around the club and is expected to play a key role.

United’s statement last month confirming the shock appointment of Manchester City’s Omar Berrada as chief executive stressed that approach.

The Red Devils have also been strongly linked with Dan Ashworth, who has left his role as sporting director at Newcastle and placed on garden leave by the Tyneside club.

The completion of the deal marks the conclusion of a saga which began back in November 2022 when the Glazers announced plans for a strategic review which could include the sale of the club.

Ratcliffe, along with Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim, were the front-runners when it became apparent a full sale would be considered, but the latter withdrew last October.

Ratcliffe’s focus shifted to the purchase of a significant minority stake, which has finally been completed on Wednesday.

Newcastle have placed sporting director Dan Ashworth on garden leave as Manchester United prepare to formalise their efforts to take him to Old Trafford.

The PA news agency understands the 52-year-old has stepped away from his duties at St James’ Park having told the ownership group that he wants to accept the Red Devils’ overtures.

New Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe has identified the former Football Association technical director as the man he wants to lead an overhaul and now faces the prospect of striking a deal to prise him from the Magpies’ grasp.

It is understood there has been no formal contact between the clubs as yet but there is little doubt that both will want the matter resolved swiftly to their satisfaction after a week of speculation.

Magpies head coach Eddie Howe has already expressed his concern over the potential for Ashworth to take his inside knowledge with him and that fear is likely to have a major say in Newcastle’s willingness to cut short a stipulated period of inactivity before he can take up a role with a competitor.

In the circumstances, Manchester United may have to bite the bullet on a significant compensation package if they want to get their man in time for an important summer transfer window.

Ashworth was drafted in by Newcastle’s Saudi-backed owners in June 2022 after they paid Brighton substantial compensation to secure his services.

They had identified him as the man they wanted to knit together the various arms of the club’s football operations and not just to oversee its transfer dealings.

He was at the helm as the Magpies surged to a top-four Premier League finish and earned a return to Champions League football after an absence of two decades.

Along the way, they also reached the Carabao Cup final, where they were beaten 2-0 by Erik ten Hag’s men at Wembley.

Howe has enjoyed a close relationship with Ashworth, who was in the stands at St James’ Saturday’s for 2-2 draw with Bournemouth, but admitted after the game he had not spoken to him since voicing his fears about the confidential information he has about the club’s future planning.

Asked on Friday if the sporting director knew the details of Newcastle’s summer recruitment mission, he said: “Yes, and that’s why I say he’s in a position of power, with a lot of intelligence and information.”

Newcastle have not commented on the situation, but are sure to drive a hard bargain as they attempt to protect themselves while at the same time looking for a talented administrator to replace a key member of the hierarchy.

Newcastle have placed sporting director Dan Ashworth on gardening leave as Manchester United prepare to formalise their efforts to take him to Old Trafford.

The PA news agency understands the 52-year-old has stepped away from his duties at St James’ Park having told the ownership group that he wants to accept the Red Devils’ overtures.

New Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe has identified the former Football Association technical director as the man he wants to lead an overhaul and now faces the prospect of striking a deal to prise him from the Magpies’ grasp.

It is understood there has been no formal contact between the clubs as yet but there is little doubt that both will want the matter resolved swiftly to their satisfaction after a week of speculation.

Magpies head coach Eddie Howe has already expressed his concern over the potential for Ashworth to take his inside knowledge with him and that fear is likely to have a major say in Newcastle’s willingness to cut short a stipulated period of inactivity before he can take up a role with a competitor.

In the circumstances, Manchester United may have to bite the bullet on a significant compensation package if they want to get their man in time for an important summer transfer window.

Eddie Howe is confident Newcastle will protect themselves to prevent sporting director Dan Ashworth from taking inside knowledge with him to Manchester United.

The PA news agency understands United want the former Football Association technical director to oversee a new era at Old Trafford in the wake of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s arrival as co-owner.

Ashworth was recruited by Newcastle’s new owners from Brighton to perform a similar role 20 months ago, and his loss would represent a significant blow to their project on Tyneside and to their hopes of competing with a direct rival for the trophies and Champions League football they crave.

Asked if the detailed intelligence the 52-year-old possesses about his current employers and their blueprint was a concern, head coach Howe replied: “I think your concerns are relevant. I don’t know quite how much I can say on that, but I share your feelings.”

He added: “It goes without saying that we’re very protective of what’s ours, whether that’s players or staff. If people do eventually move on to other clubs, there’s a process to go through before that is reality.”

Howe insisted there had, as of Friday morning, been no formal contact between the clubs, but was candid when asked if Ashworth had told him he wanted to remain at St James’ Park amid the whirl of speculation in recent days.

He said simply: “No.”

United’s interest in Ashworth, who is credited with establishing England’s DNA during his time with the FA, is long-standing and the Magpies have been aware of the situation for some time.

They themselves prised him free from Brighton – he resigned from his role at the AMEX Stadium in February 2022, but did not take up his new post until June of the same year after lengthy negotiations which eventually resulted in a sizeable compensation payment.

United would have to enter into a similar arrangement to secure his services sooner than the terms of his contract at Newcastle stipulate, but there is an acceptance on Tyneside that matters are coming to a head and the sooner the situation is resolved, the better.

Howe said: “At some stage there has to be a line drawn and things have to move forward.

“The club will always move forward. We’ve got some very good people in all departments doing some outstanding work that people don’t see.

“The club is hugely ambitious and that has never changed. I’ve got no doubt the club will be successful in the future.”

Howe’s comments came as he prepared his team for Saturday’s Premier League clash with former club Bournemouth at St James’, a game England striker Callum Wilson will miss with a pectoral muscle injury for which he was due to undergo surgery on Friday and which is likely to sideline him for the bulk of what is left of the season, putting his Euro 2024 hopes in doubt.

Howe said: “We hoped initially he could carry on – and he felt good, actually, Callum, felt functionally fine. He was moving his arm and had full strength.

“But when he went to see a specialist, I think it was apparent quite early that he needed it operating on and I think he’s having that operation as we speak.”

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe wants Dan Ashworth’s future to be resolved quickly amid Manchester United’s pursuit of the club’s sporting director.

The PA news agency understands the Red Devils want the 52-year-old to head up an overhaul at Old Trafford and while Magpies head coach Howe says there has been no formal contact, he admits there is no smoke without fire.

Asked if he wanted a quick resolution, he said: “Yes, but it’s not about what I want, is it?

“I don’t know, it’s not my decision. I’m not in control of it.”

Howe revealed he had spoken to Ashworth amid a frenzy of speculation this week, and asked if the former Football Association technical director had indicated he wanted to remain on Tyneside, he admitted: “No.”

Asked what was happening with Ashworth, he added: “Nothing, as far as I’m aware. Obviously it’s been in the news a lot and usually with these things, that means something’s going to happen.

“But as we speak now, we’ve had no contact from anyone.”

Ashworth, who joined Newcastle from Brighton 20 months ago after serving a period of gardening leave, is likely to find himself in a similar position as the two clubs prepare to enter negotiations.

Howe is convinced the project he was brought in to oversee at St James’ Park will remain on track whatever happens.

He said: “Football always moves on very quickly, and I’d say that regarding the manager’s position. Newcastle is a huge football club, it will continue to work in a very efficient way regardless of who is here.

“We’ve got some very, very capable people here in all departments, so we would carry on very smoothly.”

Meanwhile, Howe confirmed that striker Callum Wilson was due to undergo surgery to repair a pectoral muscle injury on Friday and is likely to miss much of the remainder of the season.

Gary Neville believes Dan Ashworth could be an influential figure as Manchester United’s sporting director, should he make the switch from Newcastle.

United are looking to fill the vacancy with an experienced head and are understood to have picked out Ashworth, who has performed similar roles at the Football Association, Brighton and now at St James’ Park.

Neville worked with Ashworth when he was England’s assistant manager between 2012-2016 and rates the 52-year-old as the kind of leader who could change the culture at Old Trafford, alongside incoming chief executive Omar Berrada.

“If Dan does come in, I do think there’s a chance that the performance mentality will improve, the mentality that they do have, (it) could run through the club quite quickly,” he told Sky Bet’s Stick to Football podcast.

“I’m not saying Dan is going to be a success at Manchester United, but if you’ve got the guy in from Manchester City (Berrada) and now Dan Ashworth, at least you’ve got people in roles that belong, as they’ve not had that in the last 10 years.

“(With England) he started with the Under-21s, the Under-18s and with the women’s team. You think of the success of all those teams in recent years, but that has been in the making for eight years, and it all started when Dan came in.

“I’m not saying he’s responsible for what happened, but he had a big influence with FA. They were a terrible organisation from a professionalism point of view, and I felt what he did, he put processes in place where they’re now structured and organised.”

Neville also stressed that Ashworth would expect significant power in a new backroom structure led by Ineos chair Sir Jim Ratcliffe, whose deal to acquire a 25 per cent stake in the club could be completed next week.

“I’ve no doubt that Sir Jim Ratcliffe is trusting in Sir Dave Brailsford in finding the best CEO, the best sporting director, the best head of recruitment and the best coach,” said Neville.

“It looks like they’ve got the first two, and the two yet to be sorted is the head of recruitment and the best coach, but they’re doing it one by one. I suspect that if Dan Ashworth comes in, he’ll want authority at the club to be able to make decisions.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will not have any input into the appointment of a new sporting director but admits whoever arrives will have to be “on the same page”.

The PA news agency understands the club hope to bring in Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth to fill the vacant role.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s deal to acquire a 25 per cent stake in the Old Trafford giants and take control of football operations is expected to be completed next week and the Ineos chairman’s determination to hit the ground running has seen his team move to strengthen United’s football leadership group, with recruitment a particular area of focus.

It is understood poor player trading is a significant area targeted for improvement, with sales pinpointed as a concern on top of United’s missteps making signings.

The appointment of a sporting director is absolutely key to that and while Ten Hag wants their philosophies to be aligned he will have no sway over who is brought in.

“I think it is very important you are on one page about football philosophy, about football tactics, about the profiles of the players you need in the team so it is very important to have very good communication so you get the right players,” said the manager.

“It is one of the most important factors to develop a good team, that you have the right players but also the right characters.

“That means you have to do the right work and be aligned and it’s a long process to get the right players in.

“I have worked in several situations where sometimes I was alone in charge, sometimes I had co-operation.

“I think it is so specific, especially on the top, and also so intense. With the number of games you need people around who are on the same page, working on the same targets to achieve the high ambitions.

“I am here and I know in what construction I am working and I am very happy in that construction. I don’t know anything about changes.

“I talk with the new sporting organisation but it is not up to me. My focus point at this moment is on this team.”

Ten Hag admits the investment and input from Ineos has provided a boost throughout the club, even at first-team level.

“You see, you feel, that ambition and it brings a mood and brings a spirit which belongs to this club,” the Dutchman added.

“I think the players, the staff are very aligned with the ambitions of Ineos because that’s why are here, that’s why we’re playing for Man Utd.

“We want to win and achieve the highest. We have to make strategies and we have to execute strategies to prove the ambitions.

“Manchester United also have to look for better, never be satisfied, good is not good enough, always looking for better and always try to every day do better than the day before.”

On the pitch Ten Hag has issues at full-back, with Luke Shaw doubtful for Sunday’s trip to Luton and Aaron Wan-Bissaka out for a longer spell.

“Luke is doubtful for the weekend but we are positive he can make it. He came off (against Aston Villa) as a precaution,” he said.

“Wan-Bissaka will take some weeks because he picked up another injury in training last week. Mason (Mount) and Tyrell (Malacia) will take some more weeks.”

Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth appears to be a man in demand as new Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe attempts to establish a new era at Old Trafford.

Reports claim Ratcliffe has identified Ashworth as the man he wants to oversee a reboot after his purchase of a 25 per cent stake in the club was approved by the Football Association.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at Ashworth’s credentials and career to date.

Who is Dan Ashworth?

Ashworth, 52, is a renowned football administrator who was head-hunted by Newcastle’s new Saudi-backed owners to take up the role of sporting director, which he did in June 2022 after serving a period of notice with former club Brighton. Handed responsibility for the club’s “overarching sporting strategy, football development and recruitment at all ages”, he oversaw the Magpies’ surge to a fourth-place Premier League finish and the return of Champions League football to Tyneside after an absence of two decades in his first season in the role.

What is his background?

Having been released by Norwich’s Academy as a 17-year-old full-back, Ashworth worked as a PE teacher while studying for his coaching badges – including the UEFA Pro Licence – and playing semi-professionally for St Leonards and Wisbech Town before a spell in the United States with West Florida Fury.

Where has he worked?

He was handed his first full-time role by Peterborough, where he began life as the club’s education and welfare officer and worked his way up to Academy director during Barry Fry’s reign as manager. He spent three years as director of Cambridge’s Centre of Excellence before joining forces with Aidy Boothroyd to establish West Brom’s Academy. However, it was in his role with the FA, which he took up in 2012, that his stock rose sharply. He was the man responsible for instilling an “England DNA”, an ethos encompassing the entire international set-up at St George’s Park, which has been cited as a major factor in the senior team’s progression to the latter stages of the last three major tournaments as well as success at age group level. In 2018, he joined Brighton and helped to establish the club as an emerging Premier League force.

What are his strengths?


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Newcastle United FC (@nufc)

Ashworth is far more than a transfer guru. A man credited with an eye for undiscovered talent, his involvement on that front in recent years – and certainly at Newcastle – has been to get the deal done when a target has been identified and agreed upon. However, he sees himself largely as the hub of a wheel, linking the various activities of a club’s football operations strategically and ensuring all are functioning to the benefit of the whole. His breadth of experience in different aspects of the business and his personable manner allow him to interact effectively with staff from top to bottom.

How easy will it be to prise him away from St James’ Park?

Given their determination to get him in the first place – he resigned from his job Brighton in February 2022 and had to wait around four months to get to work at St James’ – Newcastle will be understandably reluctant to allow Ashworth to leave. However, they are equally aware that should United adopt a similar approach to theirs having persuaded their man his future lies elsewhere – after another suitable spell of gardening leave – they may simply be better off biting the bullet and negotiating his departure. Asked about his exit from the AMEX Stadium in October 2022, Ashworth said: “Sometimes in life an opportunity comes along where you just go, ‘Blimey, it’s just too good to turn down’.” That time may have arrived once again.

Manchester United are hoping to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth, the PA news agency understands.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s deal to acquire a 25 per cent stake of the Old Trafford giants and take control of football operations is expected to be completed next week.

The Ineos chairman’s determination to hit the ground running has seen his team move to strengthen United’s football leadership team, with recruitment a particular area of focus.

Manchester City’s Omar Berrada is coming in as chief executive and the Red Devils are hoping Newcastle sporting director Ashworth will form part of their new-look hierarchy.

United want to bring in the former Football Association technical director, but a deal is not necessarily straightforward given negotiations with the Magpies over cost and timeframes.

The PA news agency understands poor player trading has been a key area targeted for improvement by Ineos as they prepare to take control of football operations.

Sales have been pinpointed as a concern on top of United’s missteps making signings.

Manchester United have made an approach to Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth, according to reports.

The Athletic has reported the 52-year-old has notified Newcastle he has been approached by the Red Devils but there has been no formal contact between the clubs.

Various media outlets have said the Old Trafford club want Ashworth to be in place this summer in time to oversee their transfer business.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s proposed deal to buy a 25 per cent stake in the club has been approved by both the Premier League and Football Association and is expected to be completed next week.

Ratcliffe has wasted little time in making his mark as his chemicals company Ineos takes control of United’s football operations.

Ineos sporting director Sir Dave Brailsford has been an increasing presence around the club since Ratcliffe’s deal was announced in December.

And last month United confirmed the appointment of Manchester City’s Omar Berrada as their new chief executive.

As Ineos continues to look at strengthening United’s football leadership team, with recruitment a particular area of focus, Ashworth is an ideal candidate.

He has built an impressive CV in previous roles as sporting and technical director at West Brom and Brighton and spent four years as the FA’s director of elite development.

At Brighton, Ashworth oversaw the signings of Moises Caicedo, Alexis Mac Allister and Marc Cucurella among others, while at Newcastle his incomings include Alexander Isak, Sven Botman and Anthony Gordon.

Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth admits the investigation into Sandro Tonali has been “a whirlwind” and a “massive shock” following the midfielder’s ban from football.

Just before the Magpies’ trip to Wolves last Saturday, the Italian was handed a 10-month ban by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) – which was subsequently ratified by FIFA after he agreed a plea bargain as part of an investigation into illegal betting activity.

Tonali found himself at the centre of the investigation during last month’s international break and Ashworth revealed how quickly it unfolded.

“It was a massive shock, a massive surprise. Dealing with it was new to all of us. It came from nowhere,” he said.

“We first became aware of it when was there a potential allegation on social media. I spoke with his representatives and it just happened really quickly.

“Our first thought was to protect our player, he is part of our family, and to give him the help and support he needed. We wanted to understand exactly what had happened and work transparently with the authorities.

“Sandro wanted to do that from the off as well. It was a bit of a whirlwind really. We got to where we were on Friday (before the Wolves game) where the ban had been signed off and agreed with the Italian federation, FIFA and our own Football Association.”

The ban means that Tonali, who arrived on Tyneside from AC Milan for £55million in the summer, will not be eligible to return to competitive action until August 27, 2024 and Ashworth knows he will be a big miss to the squad.

“Like any player we will miss him of course, he is a top player and a big signing. To contextualise it, it could have been an ACL,” Ashworth said.

“These things happen in football, but obviously when it happens in this context it’s not something you expect. For me, from the minute it happened, you look at yourself.

“What could we have done better? What could I have done better? What are the lessons 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.”

In addition to his ban, Tonali was fined 20,000 euros and will undergo eight months of therapy as well as carrying out a series of public appearances and manager Eddie Howe confirmed that the 23-year-old is in training.

In his Friday press conference, Howe said: “(Tonali) is training with us and he’s started that lonely – I say lonely, he’s around his team-mates – but we’re playing so many games at the moment that a lot of his sessions will be individual or small numbers.

“He’s started that journey into the 10 months so it’s going to be a real mental test for him to try and come through that period and become a better player, which is definitely our objective as coaches to try and help him.

“It’s going to be difficult for him for sure.”

Ashworth echoed Howe’s sentiments, adding: “Our first port of call is to look after and support him. It’s probably more difficult for him than anyone else.

“We have a programme to support him and thankfully he’s able to train with the team, which is great for his mental well-being.

“We’re putting together a programme of what he can and can’t do over the coming months to get him back flying in August.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.