The Gazette reported on Newcastle United’s renewed interest in the Eintracht Frankfurt defender earlier this month – and a subsequent report in Germany has claimed that a deal is close.
Willems – whose loan at St James’s Park last season was cut short by a serious knee injury – is out of contract at the end of the season.
The 27-year-old returned to fitness last year, but he hasn’t played a competitive game for his club since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament last January, and this lack of football could be an issue under the points-based work permit system which was introduced following Brexit.
In any case, a move for Willems seemingly hinges on Ritchie’s future. Ritchie – who has been a key figure on the pitch over the past two months – has been a target for former club Bournemouth in the past two transfer windows.
The 31-year-old has been living away from his family, who are based on the South Coast. Also, Bruce spoke about Ritchie’s frustration at a lack of football earlier this season.
Willems is seen as a like-for-like replacement for Ritchie, who has been fielded as a left wing-back since his recall to the starting XI early last month.
A return to Bournemouth, however, may be less likely following the club’s defeat to Brentford in the Championship play-offs yesterday.
Bruce has suggested that Newcastle will again be looking at free agents this summer following the acquisition of Bosman signings Jeff Hendrick, Ryan Fraser and Mark Gillespie last summer.
United’s head coach said earlier this month that he planned to talk to Ritchie about his future ahead of the summer transfer window.
"I’ll have discussions with Matt, but I’m delighted that he’s done exactly what we thought he would do,” said Bruce, who had a well-publicised “row” with Ritchie in March.
Willems, meanwhile, last year hinted at his keenness to rejoin to Newcastle. Asked last summer if he was open a return, Willems said: “Of course, of course. It’s sad that it ended like that. I feel like I’m not done yet.
"We will see. It would be great to be back and show them at St James’s.”