With the Joe Willock saga nearing a positive conclusion, it looks like Steve Bruce will finally get the big transfer breakthrough he’s been waiting for all summer.
Many believed our limited budget and Arsenal’s initial reluctance to sell would leave us looking at a loan deal at best for the 21-year-old, however it emerged on Sunday night that we’d agreed a deal between £20-£25m for the 21-year-old.
This is a huge bonus for Bruce. Not just because we’ll get to keep him once the 2021/22 season ends, but because this permanent deal leaves two potentially vital Premier League loan slots wide open as we head into the final three weeks of the transfer window.
Willock has clearly been our top target, giving our one-dimensional engine room the injection of energy, athleticism and goal-threat it’s so often lacked in recent years.
However, it’s been well documented that Steve Bruce wants TWO midfielders (another after Willock) this summer, along with the signing of an athletic centre-back.
Had Willock arrived on another temporary deal, we’d only have one domestic loan slots left to play with, so the fact he’s signing permanently should open the door to more arrivals – albeit until the end of the upcoming season.
Not only that, it’s been reported that we’ve been reluctant to make loan moves for fellow Premier League targets just in case one of those slots would’ve been needed to bring Willock back.
We’ve already missed out on the likes of Axel Tuanzebe and Conor Gallagher to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace respectively, but we could make moves with a little more freedom now Bruce has his man.
Hamza Choudhury could be on to watch.
We agreed to sign him on loan from Leicester City back in January and a deal looked likely to happen on deadline day – only for Brendan Rodgers to call off the move after the Foxes failed to sign a replacement in time.
Fast forward six months, they’ve signed another midfield enforcer in former Toon target Boubakary Soumare, meaning Choudhury could become available again.
Other midfield options could include Chelsea’s Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, although I suspect both may have been seen as potential ‘plan B’s’ should Willock have remained at Arsenal.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be another. Arsenal may prefer to sell, but we’d be able to get him on loan – yet wouldn’t have been able to had Willock arrived on a temporary basis.
At centre-back, Bruce seems to be an admirer of Nat Phillips. However Liverpool seem intent on selling him for around £12-£15m right now. Should that stance change and he became available on loan, he could be one to watch?
Either way, it feels like we’ll have flexibility in the loan market if and when the signing of Joe Willock is confirmed, with it a market we’ll be able to focus on as ‘big six’ clubs decide who they’ll be willing to let go of before the window shuts.