CELTIC manager Ronny Deila has reiterated his belief in Aleksandar Tonev’s innocence as the player prepares to appeal against the seven-match suspension imposed on him for racially abusing Aberdeen defender Shay Logan.
An SFA Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday found Tonev guilty of excessive misconduct in using “offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature” towards Logan during Celtic’s Premiership fixture against Aberdeen at Parkhead on 13 September. Tonev, who is on a season-long loan at Celtic from Aston Villa, attended the hearing at Hampden in the company of the Scottish champions’ assistant manager John Collins.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, who alerted match referee Bobby Madden to full-back Logan’s complaint against Tonev, was also present.
The maximum sanction for the offence available to the tribunal members was a 16-match ban.
Celtic’s reaction to the seven-game suspension was swift as they issued a statement declaring their support for Tonev and confirming the 24-year-old’s
intention to lodge an appeal.
“Racism has no place in football and as a club for all people, Celtic absolutely abhors racism of any kind,” said a Celtic spokesperson.
“This was a very unfortunate case, but the club has accepted Aleksandar’s explanation that he did not say the words that were alleged to have been said and that he is not a racist.
“We are, therefore, very disappointed by the outcome today and can confirm that Aleksandar will be appealing this decision.”
Speaking earlier in the day, before the verdict was announced, Deila had stressed his backing for Tonev when asked if the player would still have a future at Celtic if found guilty.
“This is something we will need to assess,” said Deila. “I really believe in him. It’s important to understand that people make mistakes.
“Everyone makes mistakes – I’m now talking generally. We have to assess it from there. Of course we have no support for racism – that’s clear. We will have nothing about that.
“Sometimes as a young player stupid things happen all the time with smaller issues. This is something we will need to assess but I really believe in Aleksandar. I’m sure that he hasn’t said that towards the player.”
Tonev was making his debut for Celtic in the match in question against Aberdeen. So far, he has struggled to impress on the pitch where he has started only three of his eight first-team appearances under Deila.
But the Norwegian coach has dismissed any doubts over Tonev’s approach or commitment at the club and remains committed to getting the best out of the winger in the coming months. “He has never shown a bad attitude,” added Deila. “He’s a calm, nice boy and he just needs confidence. He’s an athlete and we have to work on his choices and decision-making.
“But as a professional, I have nothing bad to say about him.
“He has to work hard every day to improve. He was out for a long time before he came here and his confidence was not the best.
“We must work every day with him to get that feeling we now have with John Guidetti and all the others. Small things can change it.
“Leigh Griffiths scored twice against Partick Thistle on Wednesday and that gives him confidence. We have to work all the time on getting to know each other and doing the best thing for every player.”
Once Tonev formally lodges an appeal against the punishment, the seven-match suspension will be set aside until an SFA appeals panel makes its ruling.
It means Tonev will be free to play in Celtic’s forthcoming fixtures which include a Premiership meeting against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on 9 November.
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