NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United’s $70 million new boy Sandro Tonali has revealed that he expects life in the English Premier League to be a steep learning curve — but hopes titles and success are just around the corner on Tyneside.
The 14-capped Italian international midfielder is the Magpies’ stand-out signing of the summer so far, having arrived as the club’s second-most expensive player from Champions League semi-finalists AC Milan.
The deal has grabbed headlines in the North East of England, as well as the hearts and minds of supporters, as they prepare for their first season in Europe’s premier club competition in two decades.
The previous time out, a last-16 place was the reward, under the late Sir Bobby Robson, and this time Eddie Howe’s men will be at least looking to replicate that feat, as well as doubling down on domestic success.
Tonali believes a major trophy or title, which has eluded the Magpies since 1969, is an inevitability but thinks it may take time — making the triumph all the more sweeter when it arrives.
On his move from Serie A to St. James’ Park, he said: “It will be an intense and amazing season. It will be a great emotion to play here.
“My path with Milan ended in the Champions League semi-final. In my first year we fought for the title and in my second we managed to win it. The third year we finished high in the rankings of the Champions League.
“Leaving Milan was one of my most difficult decisions as a footballer. Difficult, but it had to be done. The moment to do it had come and we decided to follow this path.
“After overcoming this it will be a steep learning curve. The whole journey will be difficult, but it is a great opportunity and something to take on.
“This (Newcastle) is a project in progress that needs to be carried on. When a trophy has not come for a long time, when it comes it is nicer. Waiting for it to happen is tough but when a trophy arrives you fully enjoy it,” he added.
With his flowing dark locks of hair, swept to the side in a way only Italian style affords, sharp suits, and 5 p.m. shadow facial hair, it would be unfair to criticize anyone for drawing comparisons between the 23-year-old and fellow former Milanista, Andrea Pirlo. It is not a comparison Tonali himself believes is fair though, preferring to be labelled the new Gennaro Gattuso.
“Comparisons can hurt you when you are young. If I had to choose a person in terms of similarity, I would choose Gattuso,” Tonali said.
On his admiration for the Newcastle manager, he added: “Eddie Howe was one of the people who wanted me. I am looking forward to starting this journey with him.
“Everyone has told me nice things about him. They have told me his background and what this year was like with him. I hope to start this job soon.
“The ambition of every player is to come to a team and win. The first thing is to never stop, and then to win. Try to win as soon as possible.”
Tonali remains on an extended break due to his involvement in the Under-21 European Championships, which was won by England, with the help of official player of the tournament, Anthony Gordon, who only arrived at the club in January from Everton.
The young Magpies duo, along with the likes of Alexander Isak, Callum Wilson, Joelinton, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, and Bruno Guimaraes, have been allowed a few extra days’ rest while the remainder of the Newcastle squad returned to pre-season training.
Speaking about Tonali — and Gordon’s rise to fame on the international stage — from the club’s Benton training base, Howe said: “I think he’s a high-level player. He’s got some great experiences already for such a young player. He’s won the Italian league, and this season got to the Champions League semi-final, full Italian international, so he brings a wealth of pedigree.
“I think he’s a player, also, of huge potential, because I think his best years are ahead of him. I think he’s got versatility in his game, as well, so I think he can play various roles for us.”
On Gordon’s success in the unusual role of striker for the England U21s, Howe added: “I’ve seen Anthony play in that position for Everton before he signed for us, and we spoke about one of the big things when we signed him, so, for us, he’s played left, he’s played right, he’s played centrally as a midfielder.
“In training he’s also played up front, and he’s done really well in those games that we’ve had here. He’s a player that has that versatility, and for a season that we’re going to go into, players that can play in different positions are so valuable to us.
“We really do value him highly, and hope he really contributes this year.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle United have confirmed that out-of-contract duo Loris Karius and Paul Dummett have agreed one-year extensions to their current deals.
Former Liverpool keeper Karius and born-and-bred Geordie Dummett both made just one appearance for Newcastle last season, the former making his debut in the ill-fated Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester United.
Dummett, who has made more than 200 appearances for the club, is Newcastle’s longest-serving player, having first played for the Magpies in January 2013.
Post-announcement, Karius took to Instagram to share a photo of him shaking hands with Howe. In the caption, he said: “The mission goes on, happy to be a part of it.”