Ivan Toney: Brentford striker’s return ‘massive’ for club despite transfer rumours

Ivan Toney does not lack confidence.

On a six-minute ‘walk and talk’ wander around Brentford’s training ground with in-house media, he strolls through the players’ canteen. Ben Mee looks up and asks Toney whether he is available for the weekend, sarcastically stating no-one could possibly know given the amount of interest the striker’s return has generated.

“Big dog’s back,” says Toney, repeating it for emphasis.

Whatever he is feeling privately about his return to the game eight months after being banned by the Football Association for breaching gambling regulations, outwardly Toney’s demeanour will be the same; confident, self-assured and light hearted.

“It’s massive, no doubt about that,” is Brentford boss Thomas Frank’s assessment. “It’s like signing a Premier League striker who can score 20 goals.”

Brentford fans will already be looking anxiously over their shoulders, with numerous clubs being linked with a move for the 27-year-old this month and the England international himself telling Sky Sports on Wednesday he “wants to play for a big club”.

But, after a run of seven defeats in their last eight Premier League games, Brentford find themselves uncomfortably placed just three points above the relegation zone before Toney’s comeback game against Nottingham Forest at Gtech Community Stadium.

Toney needs to rediscover his old form pretty quickly too for the club he joined in August 2020.

‘It’s obvious I want to play for a top club’

Reading through the written reasons behind the ban imposed on Toney by a three-strong regulatory commission chaired by David Casement KC, Brentford can be thankful the striker was not suspended for longer.

Described by the commission as “a prolific gambler”, Toney could have been ruled out for longer. The FA wanted at least a 12-month ban. Had Toney not, eventually, admitted his guilt, the commission said it would have been 15 months, given the seriousness of some of the 232 offences.

They included 13 bets on his own team to lose, all in matches in which he did not play, while 11 were against former club Newcastle when he was on loan elsewhere.

Even after the eight-month ban had been agreed, the FA argued it should either be extended or delayed to the start of the current campaign given it included a 10-week period when there were no matches.

Had that been the case, Toney could not have sparked more January transfer rumours with his desire to play for a “top club”.

When asked about a move away this month, he told Sky Sports: “I don’t know. You can never predict when’s the right time to move elsewhere. But it’s obvious I want to play for a top club, everyone wants to play for a top club and fight for titles.

“Whether it’s this January that is the right time for a club to come in and pay the right money, who knows.”

Not that Brentford insiders would have been surprised. Toney is not one for holding back.

Whether he thinks about it afterwards is another matter. “Talk is talk,” was his observation around the noise generated by his comeback.

Ivan Toney: Brentford striker's return 'massive' for club despite transfer rumours
Ivan Toney: Brentford striker’s return ‘massive’ for club despite transfer rumours

Brentford need Toney to make a difference

In fairness to Toney, issues around his suspension have not affected his return.

The frontman said: “I always kept on top of things. I didn’t let it go away and try to chase it.”

But this is backed up by reality, as there was not much of an acclimatisation process needed when he returned to training in September.

Toney came back to the training ground as soon as he could, with Brentford adopting a deliberate policy of getting him to play a certain number of games, moving up towards 90 minutes, all tailored to getting him as prepared as possible for the Forest game.

Club officials observed Toney was in remarkably good shape for his first training game in October, even though it would be another three and a half months before he could play in a ‘proper’ match.

Toney’s hat-trick for Brentford B against Southampton in a match behind closed doors on 6 January suggested the ‘pre-season programme’ has worked perfectly.

The only times when Toney has had to work on his own were during international weeks or when the first team were preparing for a midweek match. That time has been put to good use on individual training drills. Throughout this, manager Frank has remained a point of contact.

Frank knows he needs Toney to help Brentford get out of trouble with the kind of run they last experienced two-thirds of the way into their debut Premier League campaign in 2021-22. On that occasion, it was five goals from Toney in victories against Norwich and Burnley that got them moving forward again after they also found themselves just three points above the relegation spots.

“That’s fair,” was Frank’s reply when it was suggested most people would now look to Toney as the man who will make a positive difference to Brentford’s season.

“And it allows us to win when he makes the difference, so it will be a fantastic story on Saturday.”

A chance to reset the season then?

“Yes, in a way it is, no doubt about that,” added Frank. “We’ve had a tricky spell, every team in the Premier League goes through that, even Manchester City and Liverpool – although that’s more if they lose a game and draw one. We had that a little bit in the first season, now we have it in this season. We will get out of this spell as well.”

Toney’s ‘spicy’ celebration plans

For all the talk of wanting to play for a big club, Brentford fans have continued to back Toney.

From 2021-22 to 2022-23, only Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, Erling Haaland and Son Heung-min scored more than Toney’s 32 goals and, in that period, only Kane’s goals won more points for his club than Toney’s did for the Bees.

They know eventually he will get his move but recognise what he has done for their club. That is why the atmosphere around Saturday’s game will be even more intense than usual.

Toney is appreciative of that – but he is also scheming. He has a goals target for the remainder of the campaign, which he will keep to himself until he reaches it. And he also has a celebration in mind for Saturday if he gets the goal he has been dreaming of for the past eight months.

“I have to be careful what I do,” he said. “But you know me, you’ve got to be a bit spicy sometimes. But I will think of something that is kind of mellow.”

With big clubs circling, an England place to nail down for Euro 2024 and Brentford’s survival in the Premier League to ensure – it’s going to be a big few months for Toney.

Ivan Toney does not lack confidence. On a six-minute ‘walk and talk’ wander around Brentford’s training ground with in-house media, he strolls through the players’ canteen. Ben Mee looks up and asks Toney whether he is available for the weekend, sarcastically stating no-one could possibly know given the amount of interest the striker’s return has…

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