After a barren summer of disillusionment on Tyneside, Sunday night’s reports that Joe Willock was in talks to move permanently north offer Newcastle’s weary fanbase some much needed excitement ahead of the new season.

Landing the impressive 21 year old for around £25m, rather than pushing for an unsettling second loan, will help the young midfielder integrate better and realise his clear desire to become a ‘Maggie’.

Obviously, I need to stop short of giving those who run the club too much credit, as one signing does not a summer make. But this is solid business for a midfielder who is critical to the potential success of Bruce’s now preferred 5-3-2 formation.

It’s a rare show of conviction by a club who were only expected to deal in loans, operating with a much smaller transfer budget than Willock’s potential fee. After another frustrating summer of only outgoings and zero communication, this transfer at least gets the club moving in the right direction. But there is still a lot of work to do.

Weight of expectation

Although I don’t see the transfer fee being too much of a burden for Joe, a fee of around £25m would represent the club’s second largest outlay on a single player. I fear some fans will obviously point to this if he has a slow start, but we must immediately forget the fee.

We also can’t expect Willock to be scoring at the rate he was last season, and we must give him time to bed in and properly realise his new home, in front of live fans too.

If we allow him this breathing room in the face of expectation, then he truly has the potential to flourish and excite, as he has already proven once before.

Also the fact that he might arrive as the club’s only summer business is an unfair weight on the shoulders of such a young player, which will come with an even brighter spotlight than if new players were already here. Others may yet arrive before the window shuts too of course, but the club are running out of time.
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Midfield dynamo

The dynamic attributes he brings to an otherwise static midfield three are what helped the impressive run of form at the end of last season. So much so, that he arguably dragged us out of a sure-fire relegation fight with his surprising consistency in front of goal.

Willock brings with him an arsenal of attributes lacking in our current crop of midfielders. His ball carrying ability and technique excited last season, and his energy with and without the ball could only be admired. But beyond his obvious physical talents, are his mental attributes.

He is a fearless player, not afraid of taking responsibility in the centre of the pitch. We saw time and time again his willingness to arrive into the box as an extra attacking option for crosses and through balls. His ability to act as a conduit between the often isolated factions of our midfield and attack is one of the main reasons his presence in the 5-3-2 system is so needed.

That he can operate in different areas of the pitch in the space of a few seconds, means our attacks have more chance of flowing and causing threat to the opposition. While his impressive athleticism enables him to do this so effectively, his footballing intelligence drives him to anticipate well, find space and support attacks in a timely fashion.

He has a huge amount of self-belief, and I back him to feel comfortable in his new permanent surroundings this season. And although Arsenal’s league performances post-Wenger have been fairly sketchy, they still operate day-to-day as a big club, and it’s this big club mentality that he will bring to the dressing room and training ground. This could really lift and invigorate the entire squad.

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Fan connection

Off the pitch, his attitude and mentality have been a big factor in endearing himself to the Geordie faithful. Quite simply, he’s just an incredibly likeable person and someone who will bring a lot of positivity to the dressing room. He immediately bought into the club when he arrived last season, and was enthusiastic and articulate in his post-match interviews

Let’s face it, those goals would probably have been enough on their own. But his appreciation for fans’ support (mainly through social media given the empty stadiums of 2020/21), and his trademark beaming smile were nothing short of infectious. We even let his ‘Come on you Maggies!’ comment slide as he was such a symbol of positivity and hope for fans who are usually used to their club making terrible decisions.

But the important takeaway was his sincerity when connecting with fans. He appreciated and acknowledged that he’s played the best football of his career so far in a black and white shirt. The love and adulation he received in return will have certainly raised his confidence, allowed him to settle faster and drove him to achieve more and score more.

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More business still needed this summer

The club still have much to prove if they have serious designs to sell the remaining 10,000+ season tickets still available and want to convince fans there is still an owner in the driving seat after little takeover movement.

Adding Willock is fantastic and exciting, however this business alone will not placate fans scratching their heads at how the club are apparently ‘broke’, despite this being the fifth consecutive season back in the Premier League. It won’t wash and Mike Ashley and the club now need to show some more transfer momentum between now and deadline day.

Many might point to how long it’s taken to move for the player, however I imagine his availability was directly linked to Arsenal’s own progress in the transfer market, so it’s logical Newcastle have had to be patient and hold their nerve to secure their number one target. Clearing the wage bill of some deadwood at this end has also taken time, which may have enhanced the original transfer budget, reported to have been around £10m.

The easy win of buying such a young and popular talent at a fair price is a path not often trodden by this regime. Thankfully they have, and I can’t wait to see Joe Willock run out in front of a (nearly) full house at St James’ Park this season.

It’s the boost we all desperately needed.

Adam Widdrington (@AddingRandomWit)