Former Arsenal star Paul Merson has labeled recent bans given to Ivan Toney and Sandro Tonali as a “disgrace.” Both players received lengthy suspensions due to gambling on soccer matches. Toney was previously given an eight-month ban back in May of 2023 for breaching 232 betting rules.

The Brentford striker only just returned to the pitch in January. He has netted four goals in 10 matches so far back with the Bees. Tonali, on the other hand, is currently serving a 10-month ban for similar charges. Newcastle signed the central midfielder in July of 2023 from AC Milan for a fee of around $69 million. However, the Italian was then hit with the suspension just three months later.

Nevertheless, Merson, now working as a pundit, does not believe that soccer authorities fully understand the addiction part of gambling. The analyst recently addressed the issue during an appearance on the Sacked in the Morning podcast.

“People have no respect for the gambling addiction,” stated Merson. “We’ve seen that with the bans of Sandro Tonali at Newcastle and Ivan Toney at Brentford.”

“To give people 10-month bans for an addiction that is ravaging football, with sponsorships all over the shirts… They needed help and I don’t think ‘help’ is giving them 10-month bans.”

“We underestimate this addiction. We need to show it some respect and not, ‘Oh, show a bit of willpower’. I would say to the people who make these rules up and ban people, ‘Next time you get diarrhea, try and stop that with willpower.'”

Merson says issues with gambling have overtaken alcohol abuse at rehab center

Merson previously had a successful career during his time with several teams, including the Gunners. While at Arsenal, the playmaker helped the North London side collect two league titles before the formation of the Premier League. He also won FA Cup and League Cup trophies with the team.

While Merson excelled on the pitch, he has been open about substance abuse and gambling issues throughout his adult life. In a recent podcast appearance, the pundit claimed that betting addictions are perhaps a bigger problem in the sport than alcohol.

“It’s big in football, it’s a hidden addiction because it’s a hard one for managers to get hold of,” continued Merson. “It’s easy to hide. If a player comes in who’s been out drinking ’til four o’clock in the morning, you know. But if they drop 200 grand at a casino or betting, you never know until it’s too late.”

“Talking to Tony [Adams] about Sporting Chance [rehabilitation clinic], it’s gone from 70-30 in terms of drinking over gambling to the other way round – it’s 70% gambling and 30% drinking. That tells you it’s a massive thing.”

Soccer leagues cannot have players betting on games

Merson certainly has a point regarding how many view gambling addiction. It is undoubtedly not looked at or treated the same as alcohol or drug issues. Compulsive betting, however, can essentially ruin lives just as easily as other more prominent and observable problems.

While the former Arsenal star is correct that the addiction needs to be taken more seriously, professional leagues cannot have players betting on their matches.

In Toney’s aforementioned case, English officials reduced his sentence due to being officially diagnosed with a betting addiction. The striker also placed bets on his team to lose, but he did not feature in any of these fixtures. Toney would have likely received an even harsher punishment if he deliberately helped his team lose while he was on the pitch.