That £20million-plus deal was welcomed on Tyneside, but it didn’t make Newcastle United’s summer, and Bruce was left frustrated when a deadline day loan move for Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury wasn’t sanctioned.
The net result? A squad which is unquestionably weaker than that which Bruce had available to him in the second half of last season.
A downbeat Bruce had hinted at what was to come after Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Southampton. Bruce was deflated by James Ward-Prowse’s 96th-minute penalty when he sat down for his post-match Zoom press conference.
After tackling Southampton’s late comeback, he was asked by the Gazette if the club’s transfer business would go to the wire.
“No,” replied Bruce, who then moved on to the next question.
The one-word answer, which was open to interpretation, suggested the odds of a late arrival were slim.
Bruce and the club’s fans had wanted to see the squad significantly strengthened this summer.
Big-earning players have left the club. Andy Carroll, Christian Atsu and Henry Saivet are off the wage bill following their expiry of their contracts. Florian Lejeune’s move to Alaves “put a few quid in the coffers”, while the club, which furloughed non-playing staff using the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, banked a sell-on fee from Adam Armstrong’s move to Southampton. Matty Longstaff also left on loan.
The only arrival was 21-year-old Willock, who spent the second half of last season on loan at St James’s Park from Arsenal.
And that’s the thing. Bruce went all in on the midfielder given the impact he had made in the final few months of last season. When Arsenal made it clear their preference was a sale, and not a loan, he persuaded the club’s hierarchy to do a permanent deal. A deal was done whereby the club, which normally pays for transfer upfront, can settle the fee in instalments.
Bruce thought until today he could still bring another player on loan – and a move for Choudhury was lined up.
Significantly, however, there were no further departures from United, and there was seemingly no room for manoeuvre financially in the view of the club’s hierarchy – despite “late pressure” from Bruce.
Bruce has had an added complication to deal with given that two of his goalkeepers – Martin Dubravka and Karl Darlow – are unavailable. He may yet take the unusual step of naming four goalkeepers in his 25-man Premier League squad.
United’s squad looks very short in several areas – the club, certainly, can’t afford to lose striker Callum Wilson for any length of time – and Bruce was absolutely right to push for more deals.
The pandemic has hit all Premier League clubs, but Newcastle’s rivals have still strengthened.
Fans are right to yet again question why United have not been able to do more business in the window. Once again, owner Mike Ashley’s insistence that the club must generate its own transfer funds has left it vulnerable to relegation.
Bruce got what he wanted last year. He got Willock this summer, but he needed more, much more, in this window.
Up to now, Bruce has defended the club's efforts in the transfer market, but this failure to strengthen is indefensible.