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Ivan Toney ready for Prem’s biggest comeback since Eric Cantona as Brentford boss backs him to emulate Man Utd legend

NOT since Eric Cantona returned from his ban for kung-fu kicking a fan has the Premier League seen a comeback quite like it.

A talismanic striker bristling with a sense of injustice after serving a lengthy suspension.

Ivan Toney is ready for his Premier League return

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Ivan Toney is ready for his Premier League returnCredit: Alamy
Toney's return is the biggest since Eric Cantona was banned for this infamous kung-fu kick

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Toney’s return is the biggest since Eric Cantona was banned for this infamous kung-fu kickCredit: AFP

For Cantona, read Brentford’s England striker Ivan Toney, who makes his long-awaited return against Nottingham Forest this evening, after an eight-month suspension for 232 breaches of betting rules.

And Bees boss Thomas Frank is not shy of embracing comparisons between Toney and Manchester United’s brooding Gallic genius.

Asked whether he could see  similarities between the two players, especially their supreme self-belief, Frank replied: “Yeah, I would say so. Ivan’s confidence is amazing.”

To illustrate this Frank tells the story of a conversation with his centre-back Charlie Goode, a close friend of Toney’s since they were kids together at Northampton Town.

“I had a good talk with Charlie about a year ago,” said Frank, “we were talking about Ivan.

“When Ivan came to the club from Peterborough, in the first three games he hadn’t scored and Charlie asked him ‘are you OK?’

“Ivan replied, ‘Yeah, I’ll smash the scoring record in the Championship, I will score more than 30 goals’.

“Charlie just looked at him, surprised — and Ivan did break the record [scoring 31 times in 2020-21].

Toney will lead Brentford out as captain against Nottingham Forest

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Toney will lead Brentford out as captain against Nottingham ForestCredit: PA
Toney returns after serving an eight-month ban for breaking FA gambling rules

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Toney returns after serving an eight-month ban for breaking FA gambling rulesCredit: AP

“He has got that confidence. He believes he can score in every action. And that is a huge quality.”

Others, such as Rio Ferdinand, Luis Suarez and Joey Barton have suffered lengthy bans since but for Brentford — who have fallen into the drop zone after five straight league defeats — this is their Cantona moment.

Asked if he recalled the United legend’s comeback in 1995, Frank replied: “I remember the situation but I can’t remember when he came back.”

Told that Cantona had scored against Liverpool after his nine-month absence, Frank smiled: “Did he! Did they win?” Informed that Cantona had netted the equaliser in a 2-2 draw, Frank laughed: “Oh! Would I take it if Ivan scored and it was a draw, or for him to not score and we get the win? I think I’d still take the win.

“But I’d rather take a goal from Ivan and a win.”

“It is 99.9 per cent that he will stay here. Football is crazy so you never know what will happen tomorrow. He is committed to helping the team.”

Thomas Frank on Ivan Toney

Frank fielded 31 questions on Toney at an unusually-packed press conference  but the boss wasn’t complaining, as he embraced the feel-good factor.

In sub-zero temperatures at Brentford’s Osterley training base, Dane Frank did not have the demeanour of a manager whose side have lost five straight league matches and just been knocked out of the FA Cup.

Frank believes that the fact Toney is not returning from an injury will make it far easier for him to find his feet after a long-term absence.

And he offered a comparison with Christian Eriksen, who first took the field again with Brentford in 2022 following a cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark in the Euros seven months earlier.

Frank said: “Mentally, it’s different to coming back from injury.

“I think he is a player that will hit the ground running.

“I compare it — it’s different, but a little bit — to Christian Eriksen.

United badboy Cantona scored the leveller in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool on his return from his kung-fu kick ban

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United badboy Cantona scored the leveller in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool on his return from his kung-fu kick banCredit: Rex Features

“Also, he was not ‘injured’ if that makes sense. Of course it was a crazy thing that happened to Christian  but he hit the ground running and I expect the same from Ivan.”

Those who know Toney best claim his levels of self-assuredness are extraordinary, even by Premier League standards.

He has previously spoken of feeling he has been ‘scapegoated’ — suggesting that players in lower leagues have received softer penalties for similar offences.

Yet the FA was pushing for a 12-month ban, given that Toney’s offences included 13 bets on his own club losing — although he did not play in those matches.

When Frank was asked whether Toney, 27, was sorry for his misdemeanours, the Dane was unable to admit he was remorseful.

He said: “It’s not like he thinks it’s fantastic that he made a mistake.

“Let’s say in a football match he is always holding his hand up if there is something he should have done better.

“But ‘sorry’ is a big word. If it could have been done differently, yeah, I think he would have done, but he moves on and he is looking forward.”

Frank does concede Toney’s sense of injustice might provide him with extra ‘edge’ for his comeback against Forest, the side he scored his most recent goal against last May.

“He has got that confidence. He believes he can score in every action. And that is a huge quality.”

Thomas Frank

Toney has been linked with a move to Chelsea or Arsenal and the player himself has not shied away from the possibility of a January transfer.

Yet the Gunners have no interest in signing him during the current window and Frank says he is ‘99.9 per cent sure’ his star man will stay for the rest of this season.

Frank said: “There’s an argument that he is the second-best striker in the Premier League.

“Last year he was third after Harry Kane and Erling Haaland. Of course he needs to prove it again.

“It is 99.9 per cent that he will stay here. Football is crazy so you never know what will happen tomorrow. He is committed to helping the team.

“There have been no offers. We are committed to each other. I haven’t seen one day of training where he didn’t want to give to the team.

“I’m convinced he will do the same against Forest and for the rest of the season.

“He is a special character in many ways. A fantastic person.

“The energy he brings, the smile, the positivity every day at the training ground is a massive thing and on the pitch he drags people with him, so it’s a massive boost.”

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