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Ivan Toney’s second chance

(AP) — First there was anger, then there was self-pity, then came a period of introspection.

Soon enough, Ivan Toney was gripped by a desire to make amends and become the best striker in England.

Toney went through a range of emotions while serving an eight-month ban for breaching betting rules that, as he prepares to return to the field with Brentford in the Premier League on Saturday, has given him a new outlook on life and his soccer career.

He realises just how lucky he is to be playing the sport he loves, how much he missed the locker-room jokes and the banter with his teammates in training.

“FREE!” was the message on a GIF he posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday as the 27-year-old Toney celebrated the first day back from his ban, handed to him after being charged with 232 counts of breaching English soccer’s betting rules. An independent commission said in its report that the suspension could have been longer if not for the diagnosis of a gambling addiction.

“I feel like we lost connection,” Toney said in an interview with British broadcaster Sky Sports. “The Wi-Fi went and now we’re back, fully loaded.”

He’ll make his return to action in Brentford’s home match against Nottingham Forest.

“I’m sure I’ll be knackered after 20-30 minutes,” Toney said. “But I’m sure the excitement will be there and that will get me through the 90 minutes.”

Brentford will likely need him to complete the match.

FILE – Brentford’s Ivan Toney during the Premier League soccer match between Brentford and Bournemouth at the Community Stadium in London, England, on Jan. 14, 2023. PHOTO: AP

Without its star striker, the club from west London has plunged into trouble and finds itself in 16th place — three points and two spots above the relegation zone — after seven losses in its last eight league matches.

“We are in a relegation battle,” Toney said, “but everyone knows we are capable of getting back to where we should be.”

Whether he sticks around to get Brentford out of danger remains to be seen.

He wouldn’t commit to being at the club beyond the January transfer window, saying “you can never predict when is the right time to move elsewhere.”

“It’s obvious I’d like to play for a top club,” Toney said. “Everybody wants to play for top clubs fighting for titles. But whether January is the right time, if someone was to come in and pay the right money, who knows?”

Arsenal has been linked with Toney. So, too, Chelsea because of its need for a proven scorer. And Toney is widely seen as that after finishing third in the Premier League’s scoring chart last season on 17 goals, behind only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane.

Who’d have thought this could happen to the player who failed to make it at Newcastle as a youngster and was sent out for six separate loan spells at lower-league clubs around the country, at the likes of Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe? Three-and-a-half years ago, Toney was playing in England’s third division for Peterborough.

Now he’s one of the most sought-after attacking players in the country after breaking into the big time at Brentford, which he led to promotion three seasons ago. He is a menace in the air, has strong link-up play and barely misses a penalty.

If he hits the ground running after his ban, he could yet make it into England’s squad for the European Championship in Germany starting in June.

From where he has come from — both in the long and short term — it would be quite the story.

“Football is a luxury,” he said. “We are privileged to be playing the sport we love. If I was to be dwelling on being upset that I couldn’t play football, it would be a bit rich of myself.

“Looking back, it (the ban) did take its toll on me but after I looked at the bigger picture.”