Mike Ashley took a massive Newcastle United transfer gamble despite late pleas from Steve Bruce

It’s not yet there in black and white.

The Premier League is yet to announce Newcastle United’s 25-man Premier League squad. There are unlikely to be any surprises when the group is eventually confirmed, as there were only 25 players that Steve Bruce could have named in his squad.

Significantly, four of the slots are set to be taken by goalkeepers – and there will be no new names.

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Former loanee Joe Willock, no longer an Under-21 player, has been added to last season’s list after joining the club on a permanent deal this summer along with Freddie Woodman, who was on loan at Swansea City in 2020/21.

Steve Bruce.

Out go Andy Carroll and Christian Atsu, who left the club in the summer following the expiry of their contracts. Matty Longstaff, an Under-21 player last season, was loaned out to Aberdeen.

The squad, as such, is no stronger than it was last season. Arguably, it’s weaker. Other clubs have moved forwards. United, by contrast, have taken a step backwards.

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The return of Willock – whose £20million-plus fee is being paid in instalments – was welcome. Far less welcome was the failure of the club to add another senior player to the squad, though Santiago Munoz joined on loan from Mexican club Santos Laguna. The 19-year-old will initially join the club’s Under-23 squad.

This failure won’t have come as a surprise to United fans, used to the under-investment and neglect of the Mike Ashley era.

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However, the club’s failure to add a late loan signing seemed to come as a surprise to Bruce, who was hopeful of a deal for Leicester City midfielder Hamza Choudhury up until the final hours of the window. Late discussions came to nothing.

Bruce had more or less got what he wanted in the previous windows – the club bought well a year ago when Callum Wilson joined in a £20million deal – and he had again pledged to “knock on the door” after guiding United to a 12th-placed finish last season.

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Speaking at the end of the campaign, Bruce said: “Newcastle finishing 12th, that cannot be judged as an achievement. We’ve got to do better than that, that’s my job, to knock on the door, and make us better.”

Bruce, unlike Rafa Benitez, his predecessor, hasn’t said a word out of turn when asked about transfers since taking over at the club two years ago, but, privately, a frustrated Bruce, short of options in key areas, was said to be feeling “bruised and battered” once the window closed.

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It’s claimed that the 60-year-old – who admitted in pre-season that his contract doesn’t expire at the end of the season – won’t walk away out of loyalty to his players.

Bruce, aided by assistant Graeme Jones, must make do with the same 25 senior players he had last season.

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The team, winless out and of the Carabao club, faces a testing few months. Fans have already turned on Bruce – there were chants for him to go during last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Southampton – things could get worse before they get better.

Supporters have long known how little Ashley cares about the club given the neglect they’ve witnessed under his ownership. He’s gambled again.

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It’s the same old Ashley. And the same old squad.

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